Must-have software for Ubuntu Linux

What makes a good desktop OS?  Is it security?  Functionality?  Value?  How about all three?  Meet Linux.  The most secure Desktop OS available is also incredibly functional, and a great value since all that function is generally free (as in speech, as well as free as in beer).

But, of course, any OS is only good as the available software.  That is why I have compiled this list of great software to install out-of-the-box on your Ubuntu Linux system.  Of course, the same software is probably available on whatever Linux distro you have chosen.  BTW, “distro” is short for distribution, another way of saying type, kind, flavor, etc.  All Linux/BSD distros are the same at the core, but each varies somewhat as to software available, user-interface, and commands necessary to install software or do other things.  Ubuntu just happens to be the most popular, and my personal distro of choice.  Although it ships as a single CD Rom (yes, CD, not DVD), Ubuntu comes remarkably well equipped.  If you want even more power, it is only a few keystrokes away.  Literally.  After all, Linux had software repositories long before Jobs “invented” them and called them an “app store”.  Here goes!  Remember, ALL of the following are FREE (as in beer) and many are also free, as in speech.

System Tools/Utilities

  • Aptitude – It is a package manager that used to be installed in Ubuntu by default, but was cut, likely to save space on the CD.  Most prefer it to the apt-get utility
  • WINE – Wine Is Not an Emulator.  Whatever.  Self-referential acronym and tech-bits aside, all you really need to know is that it will allow you to run some Windows applications on your shiny new Linux install.  Can be a life-saver if there is some random Windows-specific application you simply can’t live without.  Will not run all Windows apps, so YMMV, but it is certainly worth a shot.  Different versions of Wine work better with different applications.  Newer is not necessarily better.  At the time of writing, the default version for Ubuntu is currently v1.2.  If 1.2 doesn’t work, give 1.3 a try.
  • Conky – A nice tool for displaying system stats. Requires manual configuration via a text file.
  • Furious ISO Mount – for mounting CD/DVD images and running/accessing the data without burning a disc.
  • Keepass – password management utility.
  • Acrobat Reader – View PDF documents using this alternative to the default PDF viewer.
  • JAVA/JRE – for running OS-independent code.  May be required for some software you may want to run.
  • Chrome – Google’s slick answer to IE and Firefox.  The Linux verison is technically called “Chromium”.  Who knows…
  • Dropbox – Automagically sync your files across multiple computers, even multiple platforms.
  • VirtualBox – Run virtual machines inside of your Linux installation.  Useful if you want to run two operating systems simultaneously on one computer.
  • Various nautilus utilities – a collection of scripts and utilities that add functionality and ease-of-use to the nautilus (file explorer) interface.

User Interface/Style

  • Compiz – adds a lot of very nice functionality and customizability to the UI, as well as some dazzling effects
  • Emerald – pretty-up and customize your interface even more.  Works well with compiz.


  • VLC – Very full-featured video player and streamer.  Many prefer it to Movie Player, although Movie Player is getting much better.
  • Audacity – Audio editor.
  • Picasa – A really nice photo management tool from Google.  Great if you have an online Picasa account.
  • GIMP – Gnu Image Manipulation Program.  Pluggable image editor after the style of Photoshop or PhotoPaint.
  • XBMC – Awesome Audio/Video/Photo Library.  Originally on the X-Box, but now ported to pretty much every OS.  Plays music, photo albums, multiple video formats, even commercial DVDs easily.
    • If you want to control XBMC (and some other apps) with a remote, also install and configure the following packages:
      • lirc
      • lirc-x (can be used to run general commands in the OS, e.g. to launch XBMC from the remote)
      • mythbuntu-lirc-generator (not needed for XBMC, I believe, but useful for other apps)
  • AcidRip – Rip DVD videos to files on your hard disk so you don’t have to keep inserting/removing the media (and risk damaging it every time) to play movies you legally own.  May require Ubuntu-restricted-extras.  May not be technically legal.  Bleh.


  • Google Earth – Hey, I can see my house!  Ok, it isn’t really “must-have”, but it is a pretty cool application.
  • Skype – Chat/talk for free or a minimal charge


  • Samba
  • OpenSSH Server
  • Putty Tools for use with OpenSSH

No, I didn’t mention any Antivirus product.  You don’t need it.  Really.

Installing all of the aforementioned applications is a cinch.  For most, you don’t even have to visit a website.  The following commands are specific to Ubuntu 10.10, AKA Maverick Meerkat, but will likely work for other recent versions of the OS.

  1. Open Terminal and type the following command to install the Aptitude package manager:
    1. sudo apt-get install aptitude
  2. Add MediBuntu repository, for less free (as in speech) but more functional software.  You can skip this, but some packages will be unavailable.  Purists will brand you a traitor, but your system will actually be fully-functional, so who laughs last?  You will need it if you want to install acroread-fonts as well as some video/audio codecs and other things you might like.
    1. sudo wget –output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list$(lsb_release -cs).list && sudo apt-get –quiet update && sudo apt-get –yes –quiet –allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring
  3. Add the XBMC repository if you want to install the application.  I HIGHLY recommend using this for multimedia, particularly video (it plays commercial DVDs out-of-the-box.
    1. sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc
  4. Update the software currently installed on the system.  Grab a snack, or go for a walk…
    1. sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude full-upgrade
  5. Install a LOT of the aforementioned software with this line (remove anything you don’t want).  Should all be entered as one line. This will also take a good while unless you have a quick connection.  Take a deep breath and savor the moment.  You are about to install over two dozen “apps” with a single command.
    1. sudo aptitude install wine fusion-icon compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-fusion-plugins-extra emerald conky keepassx acroread vlc sun-java6-jre nautilus-gksu nautilus-image-converter nautilus-open-terminal nautilus-script-audio-convert nautilus-script-collection-svn audacity furiusisomount skype picasa gimp xbmc acidrip lirc lirc-x mythbuntu-lirc-generator virtualbox-ose chromium-browser
  6. If you want to play your legally purchased/rented commercial DVD movies without using XBMC, you will need to run the following commands.  May not be legal where you live since purchasing a DVD may not give you the legal right to view it. If you really want to know, go ask a lawyer. I am NOT a lawyer.  This worked in previous versions of Ubuntu, but I haven’t tested it in 10.10.  It is probably the same:
    1. sudo aptitude install ubuntu-restricted-extras
    2. sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/
  7. If you installed the Medibuntu repo, above, you may also want the following nicities.  Install them with “sudo aptitude install”:
    1. acroread-fonts – make Acrobat Reader look better
    2. w32codecs – play some Windows av file types
  8. If your Windows app requires a newer version of WINE, install the repo, and the wine1.3 package after removing the current version if you installed it using the “aptitude install” command above.
    1. sudo aptitude remove wine
    2. sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-wine/ppa
    3. sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude install wine1.3
  9. Go here to download and install Dropbox.
  10. Google Earth was in the Lucid (Ubuntu 10.04) repos as “googleearth”, and probably will again for Meerkat, eventually.  Until then, you have to create your own package for installation.  Not as difficult as it sounds, but some effort is required.  Check out this blog post detailing how.  It is cool, but I rarely open it, so I’ll just wait.
  11. If you know what you are doing, you don’t need me to tell you how to install Samba or OpenSSH Server.  These introduce potential security risks if you do NOT know what you are doing.

Well, that is it.  You now have the tools.  Now go set up compiz, conky, and your other software and enjoy your new system!

~ by Jay P Morgan on February 21, 2011.

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