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Standards, Methodology, And The Legend

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Communications Apps
By

In order to include the best cross-section of apps, and by 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. 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. 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. Apps that had too many bugs, crashes, or failures were left out.

The quality of an app is determined by comparing its feature set to the industry-leading title in that category (whenever one exists). 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. Since Free and Open Source Software (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 community of users, popular software naturally has more documentation and has 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. For a more comprehensive explanation of the standards I applied to the applications, please reference the Standards and Methodology page from the previous segment.

Exclusion #1: Web Apps And Online Services

Almost every article showcasing Web apps and online services is applicable to Linux as well as Windows, even if not specifically stated.

Exclusion #2: Windows Apps

Though I will include a page on virtualization and emulation, it is to showcase the actual virtualization/emulation software. I do not delve into the details of getting any specific Windows app running in Linux. If you really want to know more about virtualization of Windows apps in Linux, check out How To: Windows XP Mode In...Ubuntu Linux?

Exclusion #3: Preferences

User preferences like the alluring 3D desktop effects, screen savers, and panels/launchers are not covered in this series. There is an upcoming How To: piece for the different preference options, though.

Exclusion #4: Games

Native casual games, free games, indie games, retail games, as well as virtualized platforms and emulation will be covered in a future rundown of Linux gaming.

Exclusion #5: Servers

This is a follow-up to the first article and therefore concentrates on Linux as being an alternative OS for consumers. Nothing server-side this time; only client-side.

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 home page (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.

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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  • 7 Hide
    mitch074 , October 19, 2009 7:55 AM
    I'd like to add something to the article...

    - Skype for Linux is currently in version 2.1 (beta) which differs from 2.0 (final) only in the fact that it is now able to deal with ALSA, OSS and PulseAudio transparently - and it doesn't wreck webcam outputs as much.
    - Skype for Linux has supported video ever since version 2.0 (beta); it does work quite well if your webcam sends uncompressed video to the system (if your webcam streams MJPEG and you have a 2.6.28+ kernel, you will need some hacker-fu; details on demand)
    - a quite well known single protocol IM is aMSN, which is also multiplatform; its other main advantage is that it supports voice and video chats. However, it's not always very stable and requires manual setting up of a TCP port for video and voice to work properly.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 19, 2009 9:37 AM
    How about benchmarking the applications. Which ones use more ram vs. functionality? How about responsiveness and stability? Those are questions I would like to see laid out because much of the Linux user base have older hardware and don't like things eating away their CPUs and ram.
  • -4 Hide
    oralward , October 19, 2009 10:41 AM
    You should really cover something with kde desktop as only because of protest by gnome users is it still the default desktop in any of the three versions you are covering. Its also easier for someone coming from windows. There is a version of ubuntu called Kubuntu that uses kde. This is the other main desktop.
  • -2 Hide
    amdfangirl , October 19, 2009 11:55 AM
    I'll agree, kde rules but GMOME s what begineers use often.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 19, 2009 12:40 PM
    Great article.

    As far as KDE vs. Gnome, I see no problem with the current format, maybe just do a Ubuntu(Gnome) vs. Kubuntu(KDE) vs. Xubuntu(Xfce) vs. MoonOS/OpenGEU/JAD(Enlightenment) roundup, to show off the different desktops(and the few apps that only work on a particular desktop). Any look good with the right theme and some Compiz/Beryl, but KDE and Enlightenment have an edge right out of the box.
  • 0 Hide
    rrockman , October 19, 2009 1:08 PM
    It's... "Surprising" that you didn't analyze Mercury, one of the most advanced multi-account IM apps.
  • 0 Hide
    haplo602 , October 19, 2009 1:56 PM
    ah gui only options ... well have a look at CenterIM when you have time. It's a great little IM tool that runs in the terminal. This way I can get to my client everywhere with just a simple ssh client :-)
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , October 19, 2009 1:57 PM
    "The one major protocol that Empathy supports and Pidgin doesn't is the increaasingly-popular Jabber."
    This is just plain wrong. Pidgin has supported Jabber for a long time. It's called XMPP in the later versions which is the name of the protocol used by jabber clients
  • 4 Hide
    rdawise , October 19, 2009 2:37 PM
    Again, I praise Mr. Overa's coverage of Linux. I am looking forward to the Games section of Linux since I don't have much experience with native games.
  • 4 Hide
    jppayne2 , October 19, 2009 2:55 PM
    "My major problem with Thunderbird is that it will continually ask for confirmation to ignore a security certificate every time it checks for new mail, by default, every ten minutes. Most of the other clients in this roundup give you the option to always accept or ignore."

    Actually, Thunderbird allows you to permanently accept the certificate, which will do what you want. Just pay attention when the confirmation dialog comes up, and select "Accept this certificate permanently". It's the first option (the default is the second option, which is to accept the certificate for the current session).
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 19, 2009 3:19 PM
    I prefer Xubuntu!
    It's a great lightweight Os, without all the frills and gadgets of Ubuntu, runs on low system specs, which means on a regular system it just flies.
    Takes a little of experience over Ubuntu to handle things, but over time you'll get the hang of things.
    Runs good on a USB stick too!
    I like the 'Live' idea, no need for installing; but for a full experience it's best to just remove your HD (which can get messed up in installations), and install the OS on an external USB!

    Some users experience a very good system response on a PCIE SLC SSD. Latest version you can install on 4GB, previous versions you could install on less.
    Takes about 2,75GB in size, with some apps and updates installed.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 19, 2009 6:21 PM
    Who's voting all the comments down? I smell a Mac fanboy having Linux-envy-induced menstrual cramps...
  • 0 Hide
    jasperjones , October 19, 2009 8:18 PM
    Thunderbird is quite popular and can be easily extended to be a fully-fledged PIM client. E.g., the Lightning plugin provides an integrated calendar. The very sweet Provider for Google Calendar plugin allows bidirectional access to Google Calendar (i.e., you can make the same calendar visible on each machine which has it installed, no need for manual syncing). Several other plugins consist that, imo, make Thunderbird more powerful than Outlook. Especially if you have an Android phone and use Google Calendar and Google Contacts, you will have the same contacts, calendar, and email available on all your devices.
  • 0 Hide
    WheelsOfConfusion , October 19, 2009 8:50 PM
    Coming from a Windows background and daily use of mIRC, I loves me some X-Chat. It's a pretty great mIRC replacement, supporting those quirky color codes and enhancing readability by displaying your own messages slightly gray by default so you can tell at a glance where your messages are in relation to everyone else's, without having to use a color script.
  • 3 Hide
    Sharft6 , October 19, 2009 9:06 PM
    the ventrilo people are also working on a linux version for their popular voip program.
  • 4 Hide
    heffeque , October 19, 2009 9:53 PM
    JFYI: Emesene is MSN=em-es-en but in Spanish: eme-ese-ene.
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , October 19, 2009 10:12 PM
    heffequeJFYI: Emesene is MSN=em-es-en but in Spanish: eme-ese-ene.

    Ahh, so that's where they got that name, awesome. Thanks for the tidbit :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Shadow703793 , October 20, 2009 1:28 AM
    Hey toms, could you do a file system benchmark? I want to know how ext3/4 vs Reiser(4) vs JFS. I would also like to see the effect of file system on SSD vs HDD. Currently, there is ongoing debate between which performs best on SSDs, Reiser4 vs ext3/4.
  • 1 Hide
    dingumf , October 20, 2009 1:36 AM
    amdfangirlI'll agree, kde rules but GMOME s what begineers use often.


    orly?
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , October 20, 2009 1:58 AM
    Shadow703793Hey toms, could you do a file system benchmark? I want to know how ext3/4 vs Reiser(4) vs JFS. I would also like to see the effect of file system on SSD vs HDD. Currently, there is ongoing debate between which performs best on SSDs, Reiser4 vs ext3/4.

    Fantastic idea! I've got my plate full right now, esp with the gaming guide on the horizon, but I like this a lot. I will begin looking into it for Q1.
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