15 must-have apps if you’re new to Linux

And none of them will cost you a penny

You’ve decided to take your open-source aspirations to the next level and try Linux. Maybe you’ve installed a Linux distribution like Ubuntu on a brand new PC or you’ve hacked your Chromebook to run Linux. Either way, you’ll need to get up to speed with the best software available to make your computer as capable as possible. Windows and OSX get too much attention sometimes, so we’ve decided to help you get started with our top 15 Linux apps.

We’ve avoided anything too specialist, instead favouring apps that will improve your overall experience and productivity (and gaming). There are some well-known multiplatform apps available for Linux that are must-haves for most people, including Skype and Dropbox, but we’re focusing on the brilliant apps you might not have heard of. And of course everything on this list is completely free, just like Linux itself. Let’s get started!

1. f.lux

Image © f.lux
Image © f.lux

f.lux is an amazing tool available on most operating systems that will really make your life better. The screens on our devices give out blue light that has been shown to disrupt our sleep patterns when we stay on our devices after we turn off the lights. This brilliant software takes your location and the time into account to calculate the light levels outside and adjusts your screen accordingly. As the evening progresses, your screen’s colours are softer and not as glaring. It’s such a good feature and f.lux is so popular that Apple are copying the technology for their next version of iOS.

2. GIMP

Image © GIMP
Image © GIMP

At it’s simplest, GIMP is an alternative to Photoshop. It’s as powerful as you want it to be, meaning it can do that quick crop and image resize you need or it can be a hardcore tool for photographers, graphic designers, and illustrators. It has everything you would expect from a Photoshop clone such as layers, advanced colour controls, and built-in filters. It’s used by millions of people and in pretty big projects like the Scooby-Doo movie. A special mention goes to the Pinta software, which is essentially Microsoft Paint if it had better features.

3. LibreOffice

Image © LibreOffice
Image © LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a powerful alternative to Microsoft Office that will let you create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations without spending a penny. It’s the go-to office document software for Linux and comes included with many distributions. If it isn’t in yours, you can grab it from their website.

4. Chrome

Image © Google
Image © Google

This will appear as a strange choice to some and we anticipate some disagreement. There are countless browsers available for Linux and one of the most popular is Firefox, which is terrific and open-source. Another open-source option is Chromium, which is the basis for Google’s popular browser. We just can’t get by the fact that Google Chrome works flawlessly on Linux. It’s fast, you might already use it on other devices anyway, and it has the most impressive collection of extensions that are all compatible on Linux. If you want to be truly open-source then give the others a go by all means, but the familiarity and functionality of Chrome makes it our pick. Of course, if you want to keep things especially secure you could try…

5. Tor

Image © Tor Project
Image © Tor Project

Tor is a very complex project but in simple terms this is a browser that focuses on security and privacy features. Tor allows you to browse the internet anonymously and stops others from tracking you by moving your internet traffic through Tor servers and encrypting all the information. It’s one of the few security packages that hasn’t been used in Mr Robot but you probably saw it in House of Cards.

6. Jitsi

Image © jitsi
Image © jitsi

It’s worth having Skype installed on your Linux machine just because so many other people use it. The best alternative we’ve found for Linux is definitely Jitsi, which does everything you would expect of Skype and much more. The best thing about Jitsi is that other people don’t have to use it; you can have conversations with people using Facebook, Google Talk, Yahoo, ICQ etc. The feature list is impressive including group conversations, encryption of conversations, file transfers, call recording, and desktop screaming. It’s pretty much perfect.

7. Atraci

Image © Atraci

We have to come right out and say it: the best music software on Linux is actually Clementine. If you want an app that plays all the music you own, look no further than Clementine. However, if you don’t own much music and you spend your days browsing Youtube for tunes then you really need to try Atraci. Of course you can use the Youtube website to stream music but it’s more complicated than having a dedicated music app. Atraci makes it easy by letting you search for music and create playlists by pulling audio straight from Youtube and several other sites. The end product is something like a free Spotify that also plays videos.

8. Pidgin

Image © Pidgin
Image © Pidgin

There are many instant messaging options on Linux and it was difficult to settle on one above all others. One of the best is Empathy, which is certainly worth trying out, but we’ve chosen Pidgin as the best because of its amazing number of useful plug-ins and features. Out of the box you can chat with people who are using Google and Yahoo but the amazing extensions library lets you install plug-ins that connect you to Facebook Messenger and most of the other popular services your friends might be using. You can keep all of your chats using all these different services in one simple window.

9. VLC media player

Image © VideoLAN
Image © VideoLAN

VLC – the safety cone that makes everything better. Linux has loads of great media players but VLC offers the best compatibility for file types. It’s the best option whether you’re the type of person who just wants to play any movie file type with no complications, or someone who wants advanced features including command line functions. VLC can do it all.

10. Steam

Image © Valve
Image © Valve

There’s a huge selection of games available for Steam for Linux. You can scare yourself silly with huge games like Alien: Isolation or enjoy quirky indie titles like FTL. If you’ve purchased games before on Steam for Windows or OSX, you might find those games also work on Linux. We’ve tried Portal 2, XCOM2, Shadow of Mordor, Bastion, DOTA 2, Firewatch, and they all work perfectly. Fact of the day: Valve’s own operating system, SteamOS, runs on Linux.

11. PeaZip

Image © PeaZip
Image © PeaZip

Many Linux users are very comfortable using the terminal, where commands can be typed instead of using pretty applications. Experienced users create .zip and .rar files just by typing commands. If this is all new and you would prefer a simple application that does everything you need, then look no further than PeaZip. It does work with command line prompts in the terminal but also has a graphical user interface for everyone else. Have you ever came across an archive file type that you just couldn’t open? PeaZip opens 130 different types! It’s all you’ll ever need.

12. Wine

Image © WineHQ
Image © WineHQ

You can do nearly anything on Linux because there’s so much software available. However, there might be one application from your Windows days that you just aren’t ready to leave behind. Wine lets you run Windows applications in Linux without installing the whole of Windows itself. It isn’t compatible with every application but works for many. You can check a huge database to find out if Wine will work with your app. If it isn’t compatible, there’s still another option…

13. VirtualBox

Image © Oracle
Image © Oracle

Unlike Wine, which lets you run some Windows software within Linux, Oracle’s VirtualBox lets you run Windows in its entirety as a virtual machine. This means you’ll have much better compatibility as it really is Windows and can be a life-saver if your university or workplace provides software that has to run on Windows.

14. Kate

Image © Kate Editor
Image © Kate Editor

For most people, a text editor is just a text editor. Perhaps you don’t need anything more complicated than Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on OSX. The fact that you’ve chosen Linux means it’s likely you might be wanting more advanced features related to programming. Kate is a fantastic text editor that’s amazing for coding since it highlights syntax, lets you collapse code, and can even auto-complete code as it recognises various programming languages. You can install loads of extensions to make it more powerful but there’s probably no need. It understands 180 languages straight out of the box! Take a look at the full list of features. Also their mascot looks like an awesome Pokémon.

15. Utopia Documents

Image © Utopia Documents
Image © Utopia Documents

We promised to not go too specialised, but it’s impossible to leave this favourite from the list. Utopia is an incredible PDF viewer that’s particularly useful to science and engineering students and professionals. The software can read any PDF file but unleashes its full potential when you view a scientific article. Utopia instantly pulls all the data it can from the article and brings you amazing resources, statistics, and tools that are relevant. Reading a chemistry paper? Utopia can show you the molecule in 3D and let you interact with it. Wondering what to read next? Utopia will suggest related articles. It even shows you who is talking about your paper on blogs and social media. If you just want a standard PDF viewer with no bells and whistles, a great choice is Evince.

Hopefully this is enough to get you started in your brave new open-source world. There’s such a huge selection of software available on Linux that no two people will agree on the best apps to use. It’s easy to get into fights over Chrome vs Firefox or Pidgin vs Empathy, but they’re all free so give them a go and hopefully you’ll find some new favourites.


Main image © iStock/mapodile