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.
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|
|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|
|Video Memory||64MB, 3D Acceleration enabled|
|Storage||8GB, dynamically expanding|
|Audio||Alsa Audio Driver|
After several re-writes, I decided to put the version number that I referenced next to each application's name as well.