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Favorite FLOSS Applications

The most useful desktop apps, from the users' perspective

I often make recommendations on the applications I use daily while sharing my perspective on the Linux desktop. However, recently I've been getting feedback from users on what they feel are the most valuable open source desktop applications and why. Don't take my word for it...take theirs. In this article users discuss their most useful desktop applications. Maybe you'll want to give them a try - if you already use some of them, you may discover features that you were unaware of.

Evolution
www.ximian.com
Contributed by Jon Carnes, Network Guru, Featuretel

My favorite desktop application is without a doubt Evolution by the folks at Ximian (now a part of Novell). Evolution is one of those killer apps that integrates a lot of basic applications:

  • E-mail client
  • Contact manager
  • News gatherer
  • Scheduler
It was written with the idea of replacing Outlook. In fact, with the addition of a (nonfree) connection utility, it will connect to an Exchange server as if it were an Outlook client.

Evolution is open source software It runs in many different environments, including Linux and Windows, and runs superbly (at least for me). I download all my mail from various servers around the world using wildly varying protocols - including some fairly obscure secure ones - and it handles the mail perfectly, sorting it into folders based on the rules and filters that I've set up within it.

I can easily add contacts from an incoming e-mail with a click of my mouse. Another click and I'm looking at the summary page - a view of my mail stats plus any news headlines that I've told it to gather, plus an overview of all my appointments for that day (see Figure 1). Another click and I'm looking at my complete schedule or my to-do list.

 

My favorite feature of Evolution is that it is immune to all those viruses that prey on Microsoft clients. I'm never afraid to open a note that says, "I love you." I also have Evolution set to not load remote images from the Internet; no spammer will ever know that I looked at their message, but if I want to see the image I simply have to click once and it's there.

Now for the downside. Every now and then (less than once a month) Evolution locks up on me and I have to run "killev," an application that gracefully knocks Evolution out of your computer's RAM and resets the files. I don't mind it too much; it's a lot better than Outlook used to do for me, and with Evolution I never have any corrupt mailboxes. If I'm in the middle of writing an e-mail, it always recovers the new message as soon as I start back up and tell it to open a new message. That's a great recovery.

So there you have it, a testimony on my favorite Linux desktop application: Evolution.

Konqueror
www.konqueror.org
Contributed by Matthew Carpenter, Enterprise Information Systems

Open source software is fraught with indications that a bullet-point-marketing sheet does not control it. Not all the included functionality necessarily appears sexy to corporate executives, with many features dismissed as "unnecessary."

These features are included in open source software because they make sense. Developers, inspired by their own needs, create functionality that only improves the user experience. Konqueror, from the K Desktop Environment (KDE) project, is no exception.

Akin to its evil Windows cousin "Explorer," Konqueror wears many hats, including that of desktop, file manager, and Internet browser (see Figure 2). Many other hats exist for Konqueror, due in no small part to its theme-based modular design, with many others yet to be written. With all the power the KDE team packed into Konqueror, it may shock you to learn that Konqueror is very speedy. The options are so multitudinous that it's very difficult to begin.

 
  • File manager: Konqueror provides many different customizations on view types, including icon view, list view, detailed view, and others, with or without a left-hand panel for navigation. Standard bookmarking allows for keeping track of important locations, local or otherwise. With the included modules file management can take place on other machines using a variety of protocols, including Samba (CIFS, or Windows File-Sharing), SSH, NFS, WebDAV, and others. Local browsing is made simpler through the use of modules for handling various archive formats such as Zip, BZip, and GZip. You can even access your digital camera using the included "Camera" plug-in, or rip your favorite audio CDs using the "audiocd:" plug-in. Pictures can be automatically rendered as thumbnails for ease of browsing, as can other documents such as text and HTML. Extensive searching capabilities make finding files in a file system quite easy, searching by name, content, and/or timestamps. The power of file management, as with all profiles, can be augmented through the use of panel splitting, or creating another little Konqueror window or Shell prompt connected either to the side, top, or bottom of the existing window. I especially like the ability to create a photo gallery of my digital pictures (Tools > Create Image Gallery).
  • Internet browser: While handling all the major functionality Internet users have come to expect from their Web browser (HTTP, HTTPS, FTP surfing) in an optically pleasing fashion, Konqueror also provides tabbed browsing for using the same browser to surf many sites. In addition to all the file management and standard browser capabilities are such niceties as e-mailing a link or a file from the browser, extensive language support, Web page translation (for those of us mortals who don't know all the languages), Web browser identifier spoofing (for those sites that think only Internet Explorer will work), extensive history tracking (so bookmarks don't fill up with transient interests), Web page archiving to capture the page and the pictures, and developer "neatos" like DOM tree listing, Web page validation (against the W3C), and local CGI execution without a Web server.
Konqueror also provides the use of a key KDE feature, Web Shortcuts. Web Shortcuts allow a user or administrator to configure searches and Web locations that are accessible as if they were their own protocol (like http: or https:). These Web Shortcuts are extremely helpful, for example, when looking up someone in your corporate directory. I have several shortcuts defined as "ln:" for searching by last name, "fn:" for searching by first name, and "id:" for searching by login ID. Each of these "protocols" is assigned a URL, placing any search criteria given after the "ln:" in the place you specify. So when I type "ln:carpen" the Web Shortcut translates that into the URL "http://corporatedirectory.internalnet/search?Last_Name=carpen" and Konqueror visits the URL. I have another one to enter in a process change notification, which is required for all changes to the network. Otherwise tedious tasks are made simple by code written by developers who, like you, have their own work to do.

For more information on the other plug-in modules for Konqueror, visit KDE's Web site or search Google for KIO_Slave (gg:kio_slave for Konqueror users).

Konqueror is one of the great applications available for the Linux/Unix desktop. It is one of the key tools that I miss the most when working on a non-Linux workstation. If you have not had the opportunity to experience Konqueror you don't know what you're missing. Take Konqueror for a test-drive today!

GnuCash
www.gnucash.org
Contributed by Matthew Frye, Senior Systems Programmer, Rex Healthcare

I began using GNUCash last year as a part of my effort to banish Windows from my personal computing experience. It was the last open source software that I had selected to replace some application in the Windows world, in this case Microsoft Money.

Just like Microsoft Money, GnuCash is a combination of spreadsheets, reports, and combinations of arithmetic that assist personal finance management. Users can set up accounts of varying types, from standard checking and savings accounts to mutual funds and stocks. Figure 3 shows the Account tree view of GnuCash.

 

Since I use GnuCash primarily to manage my savings and checking accounts, setting up my accounts was simple. When I started GnuCash for the first time, the application asked me if I wanted to set up a new account. After account setup, I simply entered transactions into the registers created for each account during account setup. I was also able to import a QIF file, which kept me from having to start from scratch. GnuCash kept all of my transactions and imported my accounts and notations from Microsoft Money without a hitch.

Entering transactions in the register is slightly different than with the version of MS Money that I had been using, but it didn't take long to get used to. However, most of the operations in GNUCash are just the same. For example, if I make a transfer from one account to another, GNUCash automatically adjusts the other account when you enter the transfer in the one your working on.

As I mentioned, many of the functions found in MS Money are easy to find in GNUCash. Reports on cash flow, income and expense charts, and custom reports are all available. There are even some functions that I didn't have in MS Money, including financial calculators, business customer management, and tax tables.

Overall, I find GNUCash to be extremely useful and a great replacement for Microsoft Money. I tried several open source products for personal finance and I didn't find any that came close to GnuCash.

Mozilla
www.mozilla.org
Contributed by Douglas Hutchison, HDA Enterprises

Mozilla is quickly growing into my mainstay daily use application. As many are discovering, the Mozilla Project is doing much more than developing a standards-compliant Web browser. In fact, Mozilla is maturing into much, much more.

As a browser Mozilla is quick, much quicker than the leading competition. It also includes the wonderful feature of a built-in pop-up blocker. I have yet to discover a single ad that has been able to get around this blocker, unlike the add-on blocker I used to use. The next big feature is quick and easy text resizing, allowing you to increase or decrease Web page text size with one combination keystroke or three mouse clicks. Mozilla also allows for automatic resizing of images for a clean, even display of Web pages that might not match your configuration.

As a Personal Information Manager (PIM), Mozilla brings a lot to the table. As an e-mail client, Mozilla provides all the standard features you could ask for, including the ability to handle multiple e-mail accounts, automatic spell check before sending with a learning dictionary, and a built-in learning spam filter, and it was very easy to set up and use. Mozilla junk mail controls reduce the amount of spam by sorting suspicious e-mail into a separate folder (see Figure 4). Also, Mozilla will automatically learn e-mail addresses from your e-mails and organize them into your address book. Which brings us to the final great feature of Mozilla: plug-ins.

 

Mozilla allows for feature expansion with plug-in modules. There is a Palm sync plug-in allowing you to synchronize your address book with your Palm Pilot, and calendar support is in the works. There is a calendar plug-in for Mozilla that allows for calendar sharing without the need for a proprietary server product! This feature alone is one of the most requested features I hear of in dealing with the leading competing PIM.

To me, Mozilla represents the best of the open source community: a stable, secure, feature-rich, extensible product that not only meets the needs of the community, but exceeds expectations while continuing to grow, both adding features and refining the final product.

Summary
I would like to extend my thanks to all the users who submitted the preceding essays. Not only are these applications "free" in many senses (freedom from licensing fees, freedom to view the source code, freedom to alter, and the freedom to redistribute), but they also are very innovative. Many of these applications combine features that in the past could be found only by buying multiple commercial packages. However, these are but a few of thousands of open source applications available for download or included in your Linux distributions. If you are interested in other open source software, you can find a comprehensive list of applications at SourceForge (www.sourceforge.net) or at freshmeat (www.freshmeat.net).

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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