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Standards, Methodology, And Legend

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Internet Apps
By

Standards

My previous guide only referenced the most popular Linux distribution (distro), Ubuntu. To include more than one distro in an installation guide would be too much information for one article while still maintaining the linear path of a How-To. This article, however, is an application roundup. To include the best cross-section of apps (and based on popular demand by you, the Tom's Hardware readers), I've opened up the test bed to include the top three distros: Ubuntu, openSUSE, and Fedora.

Free or Open-Source Software (FOSS) applications are always available as source code, but the recent spike of interest in Linux is not because people suddenly want steep learning curves. Quite the opposite. It's because Linux has become easier to use. This is a collection of easy-to-install applications intended for those making, or even thinking about making the switch from Windows to Linux. This essentially means that these applications must fall in line with the realistic expectations of an average end-user in either a home or office desktop implementation. The three main criteria for these apps are: usability, quality, and popularity.

The first hurdle that applications had to overcome was usability. For an app to even appear in this article it has to be available in one of the top three distro's official repos or as a DEB or an RPM from the software vendor's official Web site. Several high-quality applications that only exist as source code or as shell installers had to be left out. For Linux to truly be considered for mainstream use, source/shell just won't cut it. "Granny don't makefile," and to most people, the command line is a step backwards. Obviously, apps that had too many bugs or crashes were also left out under this criteria.

The quality of an app is determined by comparing its feature set to the industry-leading title in that category (whenever one exists). For example, personal finance software was stacked up against Quicken, while image manipulation apps were compared to Photoshop. While this may not seem fair some of the time, I am not here to convert everyone or play the “it's free” card. I'm here to let new users know what they're realistically dealing with when considering Linux as a desktop option; to help you make an educated decision for yourself. In the event that there are no clear industry-leading apps to compare against, don't worry. Anything that looks like it came out of a Win9x time capsule doesn't pass.

The final criteria is popularity. When dealing with Linux software, especially FOSS, popularity isn't simply a badge of honor. It's more an effect of being a good piece of code. The effect of popularity can actually become the cause of an app becoming great. Since FOSS is in a constant state of bug reporting and fixing, the most popular apps will have the most complete sampling of users, in turn producing an even better title. Also, because support is mainly handled by the user community, popular software naturally has more documentation and fewer issues with compatibility. Therefore, popularity greatly influenced the order in which equally usable apps of comparable quality are listed. This includes extra weight given to multi-platform applications.

Methodology

In order to determine Ubuntu compatibility, I used a fresh and updated virtual machine installation of 32-bit Ubuntu 9.04, with the default GNOME graphical user interface (GUI). To determine openSUSE compatibility, I used a fresh and updated VM installation of 32-bit openSUSE 11.1 with the default KDE GUI . To determine Fedora compatibility, I used a fresh and updated VM installation of 32-bit Fedora 11 with the default GNOME GUI. A fresh and updated VM installation of 32-bit Kubuntu 9.04 was used in order to cover the rare .deb/KDE combination whenever needed. If you need a refresher, please reference my previous article for an explanation of package management.

In order to test drive the feature sets of these applications, and to determine 64-bit friendliness, I used a native (non-VM) and fully-updated installation of 64-bit Ubuntu 9.04. When an application was not available for the 64-bit architecture, I used the 32-bit VM installation of Ubuntu. If that failed I would use Kubuntu, then Fedora, and then openSUSE.

Test System Specs:
CPU
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 2.0 GHz
Motherboard
Biostar NF61S-M2 TE
Memory
4GB DDR2-800
Video
Nvidia GeForce 6100, integrated, 128MB shared memory
Storage
250GB SATA 3 Gb/s, 7,200 RPM
Virtual Machine Specs:
Version
Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox 2.1.4 OSE
CPU
AMD-V and Nested Paging enabled
Base Memory
2GB
Video Memory
64MB, 3D Acceleration enabled
Storage
8GB, dynamically expanding
Audio
Alsa Audio Driver


Legend:


   An application's logo links to it's homepage (for example, Firefox = mozilla.com/firefox).
indicates availability in the default Ubuntu repos (via Synaptic).
indicates availability in the Ubuntu repos if KDE is installed (still runs in GNOME).
indicates availability in the default openSUSE repos (via YaST2).
indicates availability in the default Fedora repos (via YUM).
links to an available .deb package download.
links to an available .rpm package download.
indicates that the app has no official 64-bit binary (though source/shell may work).
links to an available Windows download.
links to an available Mac download.
indicates that the application is a retail product.

After several re-writes, I decided to put the version number that I referenced next to each application's name as well.

Note: the deb and rpm icons used in this article are part of the hydroxygen icon set by deviantdark. It is hosted on GNOME-look.org along with a host of other high-quality theming elements.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    C 64 , September 15, 2009 6:39 AM
    tacoslavemy web machine runs on linux and i find the experience to be quite satisfying but i still game on windows.

    I run Linux on my old notebook and the experience is more than just satisfying. In fact most of the office work I do on that notebook is now done in linux an Win are used only to play. If linux only got some more games...
  • 12 Hide
    charlesxuma , September 15, 2009 7:04 AM
    allow me to say this in a simple minded manner ...

    for the dumb there is OS X
    for the weak there is windows
    for the rest there is LINUX

    If u find my statement offensive, then DO something about it dont just sit there winning about it. (LEARN) Remember we were all DUMB ONCE.

    p.s : GAMERS NOT INCLUDED :) 
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    tacoslave , September 15, 2009 6:29 AM
    my web machine runs on linux and i find the experience to be quite satisfying but i still game on windows.
  • 15 Hide
    C 64 , September 15, 2009 6:39 AM
    tacoslavemy web machine runs on linux and i find the experience to be quite satisfying but i still game on windows.

    I run Linux on my old notebook and the experience is more than just satisfying. In fact most of the office work I do on that notebook is now done in linux an Win are used only to play. If linux only got some more games...
  • 12 Hide
    charlesxuma , September 15, 2009 7:04 AM
    allow me to say this in a simple minded manner ...

    for the dumb there is OS X
    for the weak there is windows
    for the rest there is LINUX

    If u find my statement offensive, then DO something about it dont just sit there winning about it. (LEARN) Remember we were all DUMB ONCE.

    p.s : GAMERS NOT INCLUDED :) 
  • 4 Hide
    Hellbound , September 15, 2009 7:19 AM
    CharlesXumaallow me to say this in a simple minded manner ... for the dumb there is OS Xfor the weak there is windows for the rest there is LINUXIf u find my statement offensive, then DO something about it dont just sit there winning about it. (LEARN) Remember we were all DUMB ONCE.p.s : GAMERS NOT INCLUDED


    ding fries are done....
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 15, 2009 7:21 AM
    For FTP you can also simply use nautilus, the file manager. Just click file->connect to server (or in the menu bar places->connect to server)
  • 1 Hide
    cybrcatter , September 15, 2009 8:12 AM
    CharlesXuma:
    You truly covered all of you bases in that post.

    I was hoping that with the recession, perhaps companies who were really trying to make more efficient use of their capital would start to look at Linux as a tempting prospect.
    I wounder if there are any intriguing statistics about this.
  • 1 Hide
    mitch074 , September 15, 2009 8:26 AM
    I'm a Linux user. I'm not a big gamer.

    Still, that Nexuiz thingie gives my RadeonHD 4850 a workout. Chromium B.S.U. might be old but it's nice looking and addictive. And TORCS is not for the faint of heart. And...

    Well, if you go and dig into the results of 'linux games' in Google, you can find nice stuff.
  • 1 Hide
    dragoon190 , September 15, 2009 9:15 AM
    Thought you can run most of the games through wine
  • 0 Hide
    charlesxuma , September 15, 2009 9:42 AM
    u actually can run most of your games through wine, however if ur a hardcore gamer that installs and plays many (as in 20+) new games, wine still needs development for these kinds of users, your better off having windows os on the side, for that task in particular.

    There is an exception, but it will cost you a monthly fee, that hooks wine on to a software that updates installation and compatibility on a regular basis.(for the ones who can't configure wine themselves.)
  • -2 Hide
    crash27 , September 15, 2009 9:46 AM
    The mouse lag drives me nuts.
    got a gmae server up but it took so long I reinstalled windows and hit the install button. Server was up in less than 2 minutes.

    Linux is great if you have hours and hours to get it all working......
    oh and if you don't mind waiting to se where you moved your mouse all the time.
    No wait move it back just a little.....
  • 1 Hide
    C 64 , September 15, 2009 9:55 AM
    cybrcatterCharlesXuma:You truly covered all of you bases in that post.I was hoping that with the recession, perhaps companies who were really trying to make more efficient use of their capital would start to look at Linux as a tempting prospect.I wounder if there are any intriguing statistics about this.


    I'm afraid that for the most companies "efficient use of their capital" means outsourcing (and "downsizing" the number of workers).
    As for companies SWITCHING from Windows to Linux there are many obstacles, like in the process of doing so the working process in the company would be affected or even partially halted; employees often don't like to change the software they are used to work with (although working with most software packets in Linux is not so much different than in Windows - especially office applications); possible hardware compatibility problems; but most of all the biggest problem is Windows licensing: you can hardly buy a computer without Windows already installed - if you switch to Linux you "throw away" the money paid for the license.

    The interesting statistics would be how many of NEW FOUNDED companies are using Linux as they don't all the problems mentioned above and are also strapped of cash.
  • -7 Hide
    C 64 , September 15, 2009 9:59 AM
    cybrcatterCharlesXuma:You truly covered all of you bases in that post.I was hoping that with the recession, perhaps companies who were really trying to make more efficient use of their capital would start to look at Linux as a tempting prospect.I wounder if there are any intriguing statistics about this.


    I'm afraid that for the most companies "efficient use of their capital" means outsourcing (and "downsizing" the number of workers).
    As for companies SWITCHING from Windows to Linux there are many obstacles, like in the process of doing so the working process in the company would be affected or even partially halted; employees often don't like to change the software they are used to work with (although working with most software packets in Linux is not so much different than in Windows - especially office applications); possible hardware compatibility problems; but most of all the biggest problem is Windows licensing: you can hardly buy a computer without Windows already installed - if you switch to Linux you "throw away" the money paid for the license.

    The interesting statistics would be how many of NEW FOUNDED companies are using Linux as they don't have all the problems mentioned above and are also strapped of cash.
  • -4 Hide
    ibnsina , September 15, 2009 10:33 AM
    No doubt Linux is more stable and reliable than Windows, however where it falls behind is graphics user interface and usability. A simplified and cut down version of Linux should be made for the mass market, with a smooth user-friendly GUI that can match Windows.

    Even then it would be still unlikely Linux can threat windows, because the dollar rules, major software companies are here to make money.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 15, 2009 10:59 AM
    Linux developers need to learn how to design a efficient user interface. The fact that a commercial Unix (OS X) has the most usable interface between the hundreds of linux/unix distros is a testament of their flawed philosophy of "open software is always better"
  • 0 Hide
    C 64 , September 15, 2009 11:22 AM
    Quote:
    ibnsinaNo doubt Linux is more stable and reliable than Windows, however where it falls behind is graphics user interface and usability. A simplified and cut down version of Linux should be made for the mass market, with a smooth user-friendly GUI that can match Windows. Even then it would be still unlikely Linux can threat windows, because the dollar rules, major software companies are here to make money.


    There already is an cut down version of Linux with a smooth user friendly GUI - it is called OS X (the mass market aspect is questionable though) :) .

    As pretty much everything with Linux the graphical interfaces come in various shapes and sizes (so to say). In Windows you are pretty much locked in AERO GUI but there are several different GUI's.
    Most popular are GNOME and KDE - and at least they don't lack in usability compared to Windows.
  • 1 Hide
    sanctoon , September 15, 2009 1:05 PM
    ibnsinaNo doubt Linux is more stable and reliable than Windows, however where it falls behind is graphics user interface and usability. A simplified and cut down version of Linux should be made for the mass market, with a smooth user-friendly GUI that can match Windows. Even then it would be still unlikely Linux can threat windows, because the dollar rules, major software companies are here to make money.


    My Jaunty GUI is much more efficient than any windows one. Thats the beauty of it all, the customizability. If you ever think, oh it would be nice if my GUI could do that or look like this, chances are, with a bit of google you could do it.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 15, 2009 1:08 PM
    Thanks for the list toms!
    If this where an article that covered all programs it wouldn't be up by 100%, but 100x.
    There are nearly 1000 free apps for Linux, and a couple of hundred payed or semi payed apps.

    It also greatly differs from which version of Linux. Most apps talked about here work in a gnome/denian based Linux. There's also Slaxx, or redhat based linux.
    Programs that work in Ubuntu may not always work in Mandriva, or DSL.

    But it's a good list of options in case I would want to switch to a Buntu style Linux.
  • 3 Hide
    syedcdp , September 15, 2009 1:15 PM
    At last, I see an article related Linux after a very long time on TH. Did I miss any articles btw?
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , September 15, 2009 2:11 PM
    pepe_2: I assume you're completely ignorant to Linux, Linux is very, very useable, but the UI isn't dumbed down to MacOSX levels, and I wouldn't want it to be. I take it you're a Mac user, is that 2-button mouse a bit too complicated for you?


    PS: Nice article, I appreciate the attempts to spread awareness. I use Linux as my main OS, and I would never go back to Windows now, most people don't switch just because they don't realize that Linux can do everything they need it to. Kubuntu9.10 is just amazing, I tried the alpha live CD, with the new video driver, it runs fast even on my crappy 5 y/o Intel IGP.
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