Essential Applications for GNU/Linux Users

Mike Turcotte-McCusker
Jun 25, 2017
Updated • Sep 14, 2018

So, you’ve made the switch from Windows or MacOSX to GNU/Linux, congratulations!

There is a good chance that you’ve also installed a distribution like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, or perhaps Manjaro; and so you have a wide range of software already installed. However, There are a number of applications that don’t always ship by default, that I feel every user should have or at least be aware of, and some that people have by default but have not ventured to use; so I thought a list of essential applications was in order!

Martin's note: At least some of the applications are cross-platform. If you have used them on Windows, you will find yourself right at home on Linux. Also, you may import data from the Windows machine if it is still available. For Firefox, you could enable Sync to push data to the cloud, and from there on the device. For Thunderbird, you could import your mailboxes directly without having to set them up again.

Worth reading: Check out Mike's Windows alternatives for GNU/Linux article.

Essential GNU/Linux applications

essential gnu linux applications

Firefox - In my personal opinion, Firefox is the hands down best web browser available. Extensible, attractive, and not owned by Google or Microsoft.
Midori – If you need a more lightweight web browser, Midori is the one I’d recommend. It’s still fairly powerful, albeit not as customizable and extensible as Firefox, but it gets the job done and uses less resources – Great for older systems.
Thunderbird – An email client by the same creators as Firefox; powerful, customizable, well organized and does everything that I could think of an email client doing, at least for my own personal needs!
LibreOffice – An alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite, that while lacking in some features and depending on what you’re attempting to do, can have some compatibility issues, it’s likely the best you’re going to find for GNU/Linux.
VLC – Media player available for a multitude of Operating Systems including GNU/Linux, and my go to video player of choice.
Clementine – My audio player of choice, simplistic and clean UI, plenty of plugins for thinks like Last.FM or Spotify integration. Read our Clementine review here.
Keepass – A password manager that stores your passwords into an encrypted file on your machine; useful for if you have many accounts with many different passwords. KeePass runs under Wine, and there are ports, such as KeePassX that are cross-platform.
VeraCrypt – Encrypted container manager, useful for keeping files truly private behind insane amounts of encryption.Read my review here.
Docky – Desktop dock bar, useful for accessing your favourite applications quickly and easily. Read our GNU/Linux Docks comparison.
Plank – Another dock application, light on resources and gets the job done. Read our GNU/Linux Docks comparison
Transmission-GTK – A lightweight GTK based Torrent download manager
Qbittorrent – Another torrent downloader, very similar UI to uTorrent. Check out our qBittorrent review here.
Shutter – Screenshot utility with built in editor
Gyazo -- Another screenshot utility, that automatically uploads your photo online for quick and painless sharing with others. Also has a GIF tool as well.
CrashPlan – System backup utility with multiple options for where to back up your files, with a simple and easy to use UI. Read my review here.
GIMP – Graphics editor and paint program similar to Photoshop.
BleachBit – An alternative to CCleaner, helps clean caches, useless files etc and save storage space.
Notepadqq -- The Linux Port of Notepad++ for Windows, great graphical text editor popular among programmers.
Cheese -- Webcam and management software.
WINE -- Wine Is Not an Emulator, a compatibility layer / tool used to run Windows software in GNU/Linux. Read our Wine 2.0 review here.
Play On Linux -- A Front end for WINE that simplifies the installation of many pieces of software and games.
Steam -- Probably the largest source of PC games in today's society. Note, that not all games are available for GNU/Linux, but many are, and the list grows!
OpenShot -- A video editor along the lines of Windows Movie Maker, useful for making home videos and doing basic editing.
Audacity -- An audio editor along the lines of Adobe Audition.
Pidgin -- A multi-protocol instant messaging application
Xchat -- A rather nice graphic IRC client
Irssi -- A command line IRC client
Atraci -- A YouTube streaming media player, think Spotify but utilizing YouTube for entirely free streaming of your favourite music.
Guake / Yakuake / Tilda -- Drop down terminals for the GNOME / KDE / GTK Environments. Great for quick access to a terminal!
VMWare -- Easy to use Virtual Machine creation and management utility, for trying out / running different operating systems, without having to install them directly to your current system / machine.

What about you? Any essential software you use not listed on here, or alternatives you prefer?

Essential Applications for GNU/Linux Users
Article Name
Essential Applications for GNU/Linux Users
Mike takes a look at essential applications for Linux that Windows users who switch to Linux may want to check out as they are some of the best software programs available for GNU/Linux.
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  1. Maxine said on July 7, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    For Firefox instead of using Sync with the cloud, one can simply make a copy of the profile folder (in about:support “Profile Directory”)

  2. Clairvaux said on June 26, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    Bleach Bit : I just cannot understand why this is mentioned so often. Using it under Windows, I find the user interface absolutely terrible, stupid, next to useless. It does do something C-Cleaner cannot do, that is securely erasing some specific files you have created yourself (as opposed to erasing files created in specific places by commonly used software, without you being aware of it), but that’s all. Generally speaking, Bleach Bit belongs to the Hall of Shame of rotten software.

    1. gh said on June 26, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      terrible? stupid? next-to-useless? Whatsamatter, lost yer Binky?

      bleachbit (one word, not Two Capitalized words) is open source. Folks contribute various plugins (python shell scripts) which the core application uses to perform each of the various tasks. Each plugin author may maintain a separate “homepage” or “help page” and/or may (or may not) draft, and translate into 30 languages(?) accompanying documentation.

      1. anon3 said on June 27, 2017 at 4:10 pm

        Care to explain why it IS “rotten”?
        “It does do something C-Cleaner cannot do… but that’s all.” Well, it does its job. What did you expect it to be, a system “optimizer” or something? Not to mention, this is an article about Linux, whereupon CCleaner doesn’t work.
        As for the name, it’s not about being a “smart-ass”, it’s about making it easier for people to find your application/service. Spaces make things difficult, not just for development, but for looking stuff up as well.

      2. Clairvaux said on June 27, 2017 at 10:54 am

        Yes, all of that, GH. I don’t care what folks contribute, or how they do it. This program is rotten. Care to explain why it’s not ?

        Also, I write Bleach Bit in two words and with capitals, because that’s how you should do it in English. Computer geeks don’t own the British language. There are some rules to follow. One of them is you don’t stick two words together. Another one is you help people read what you write. You don’t make it purposefully difficult, just to show you’re a smart-ass.

  3. Richard Palmer said on June 26, 2017 at 9:35 am

    I would add Master PDF Editor. While LibreOffice will import and edit PDF documents impressively, it seems to have problems with font matching.
    Master PDF Editor is a good alternative to Adobe PDF. While it can be used free of charge, the very reasonably priced licence unlock some useful features.

  4. Marc said on June 26, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Question: Is it possible to import settings from a windows portable program say Firefox Portable from to a Linux installation?

    1. Mikakika said on June 30, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Firstly. Copy your firefox profile folder to another place.
      Secondly. Use command: firefox -no-remote -profile /home/myProfileFolder
      To run your profile on another profile folder.

      1. Marc said on June 30, 2017 at 10:33 pm

        Great!! Thank you!!
        I can just as well then copy the Windows 7 Firefox profile folder to say Ubuntu

  5. mick said on June 26, 2017 at 6:37 am

    Can’t believe nobody mentioned Calibre, simply amazing ebook library app.
    Cherrytree is a fantastic notes take app.
    Atom text editor I find invaluable.
    JDownloader2 is brilliant.
    Krusader is the KDE implementation of Total Commander, and much better IMO.
    Tor Browser is a MUST.
    Etcher for creating bootable USB sticks from ISOs.
    MultibootUSB for creating USB stick that can boot multiple ISOs.

  6. Richard Steven Hack said on June 26, 2017 at 1:46 am

    Fwbackups for a good backup utility. Not as fancy as CrashPlan, but works well.

  7. mikef90000 said on June 26, 2017 at 1:23 am

    A few more additions:
    – For batch image processing I had to go with Xnview (closed source, not in repos). Good for lighter editing compared to gimp.
    – qdirstat helps you find your large, disk space consuming files.
    – gcstar is a good collections manager (think physical CDs, vinyl LPs, etc).
    – the file manager pcmanfm does not have the NTFS drag-and-drop bug (within a partition files get copied not moved as they should).
    – kid3 is a mp3 tagger that works better with older IDv1.1 tags.
    – Linssid (not in repos) is a superior wireless scanner.
    – virtualbox has the best UI for creating local VMs.
    – filezilla is now my preferred client for backing up / copying over the network using secure ftp.

  8. Ray said on June 26, 2017 at 12:50 am

    I’ve been playing around with Linux lately. Here are some of my picks that Mike hasn’t mentioned:

    FreeOffice instead of LibreOffice. Libreoffice isn’t bad, but it’s bloated when all you need is a word processor and perhaps, a spreadsheet editor. Sometimes compatibility isn’t the greatest, but FreeOffice by Softmaker is a good compromise between lightness and feature set.

    Quod Libet instead of Clementine. Was looking for a 1by1 alternative and came across Quad Libet. Not really as well known as other Linux audio players, but it could also double as a foobar2000 alternative as well, which isn’t bad at all.

    Qmmp or Audacious for audio player. If you still like the older Winamp interface, both of these audio players work pretty well and support Winamp skins. Qmmp is more stable, but uses more memory usage.

    Otter for secondary browser instead of Midori. Otter is a promising Opera Presto clone built on Qt and powered by Webkit. It’s more customizable than Midori and has a ton of features. Would recommend installing the weekly builds.

    Fsearch for an Everything alternative. If you’ve ever used Everything on Windows, you’ll notice its sheer speed in searching for files. I couldn’t find a good Linux alternative until I came across Fsearch.

    dmenu2 for keyword launcher. I’m used to keyword launchers on Windows, but couldn’t find one that I liked on Linux that was lightweight and customizable. dmenu2 is pretty barebones and requires manual configuration, but it works decent for my needs at the moment.

  9. jasray said on June 25, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    Rather like Phoenix OS myself, but it’s an Android system running on a PC or USB stick. Some phenomenal tools with great access to others.

    Linux . . . ehhh . . . more like Windows with a different UI. Whereas Linux was once distinct, now it’s merged into a Windows clone–think Zorin, etc.–to convert the masses. What programs one finds for Windows can easily be used on Linux. And that horrible feeling that one would actually need VMware or VirtualBox for some reason–to run Windows. In Europe in may be different, but US is totally Windows-centric.

    K3b up there someplace? And SystemBack? And, with hope, someone will revitalize Remastersys.

    1. Jozsef said on June 26, 2017 at 8:59 am

      Windows with a different UI? Sorry, but that doesn’t even make sense to me. Do you thing Linux has adopted the NT kernel and grafted Gnome 3 onto it? The usual criticism is that Linux looks like Windows and shouldn’t, on the assumption that deviating in every possible way from Windows was the main goal and they have now dropped the ball. This is all too silly to discuss at such a late hour. Good night, friends and neighbours. ;)

    2. MdN said on June 26, 2017 at 4:41 am

      If Zorin is trying to look like Windows, it doesn’t mean that every other distro does the same. I never understood the need to make anything look like Windows, as if people can’t take 5 minutes to get used to a new theme and new icons (like, when they buy a new phone). Apart from that, not much is like Windows.

  10. RG said on June 25, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Obligatory mention of GIMP? Shrug ;)

  11. username said on June 25, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    If you need a bit more specialized software you may also choose from:

    gnuradio – need I say more?
    telive – TETRA monitor/demodulator
    SDRAngel – SDR frontend
    DSDcc – radio digital modes decoder
    gqRX – a-more-userfriendly SDR apllication (think SDRSharp on windows)
    geeqie – picture viewer with best quality algorithms
    zygrib – global NOAA weather data reader (GRIB)
    gis-weather – desktop weather apllication/widget
    firejail – app-based sandbox
    qemu – virtual machine emulator

  12. dmacleo said on June 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    if I could run anydvd (well its named redfox now) on nix would dump windows, vm’s don’t work fast enough to use anydvd on vm

  13. hallmike said on June 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    I’m liking the Vivaldi browser on Linux right now.

  14. Denovren said on June 25, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    ” Midori – If you need a more lightweight web browser, Midori is the one I’d recommend ”

    who makes the MIDORI browser (?) — why should I trust it for privacy/security ?

    its origin seems rather mysterious on ordinary web queries…..

    1. MdN said on June 26, 2017 at 4:38 am

      It’s the safest browser I ever used as, for me, it crashes after 5 minutes and I don’t have the time to do anything dangerous with it. ;-)

      1. micalical said on June 27, 2017 at 7:09 pm

        +1 :) I think Mike Turcotte have never use it.

  15. dark said on June 25, 2017 at 3:08 pm
  16. Henk van Setten said on June 25, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Most important things have already been mentioned by others here. My further suggestions to add to a list of simple and essential applications in Linux (I use Mint myself):

    • Artha – offline thesaurus/dictionary
    • Catfish – easier file searching
    • CopyQ – clipboard manager
    • Dropbox client for Linux
    • FreeFileSync – for quick backups
    • Gufw – easy-to-configure firewall
    • Knemo – network traffic monitor
    • Konqueror – multi-pane file manager
    • Pinta – image editor, easier than Gimp
    • Timeshift – create (kind of) system restore points
    • Xpad – simple desktop sticky notes

    1. MdN said on June 26, 2017 at 4:49 am

      Artha is pretty great, just installed it. I used to use WordWeb on Windows. This might come in handy. Thanks!

  17. Shiro said on June 25, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    I could not do without MKVtoolnix – very powerful video muxing tool for mkv but can handle other containers for reading too. When I switched to Linux I was glad I didn’t have to do without this.

  18. Shiro said on June 25, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Does anyone know of an easy alternative for Hotswap?

    Just click the drive in the list to be able to safely remove it from the system. Linux requires shell, I haven’t found any alternative yet.

  19. Shiro said on June 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    No security software, like a basic antivirus? Even if you start from the (mistaken?) premise that there are no Linux viruses, it’s still common to have an antivirus software for when you interact with Windows machines. So that you don’t proliferate any viruses in mails or documents to them.

    What antivirus would you recommend?

    1. Alan Robertson said on June 27, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      If you must use AV in Linux (as an always on scanner) then try Sophos:

      It’s more useful for finding Windows viruses than anything to do with Linux. If you dual boot then you can use it to scan Windows drives too (assuming not using Bitlocker or similar)

    2. limbo said on June 25, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      As Ron said, you don’t need antivirus. One of the reasons using linux is because you don’t need antivirus, and antivirus will make your system slower.

      But if you really need one like my colleague who insists he need antivirus for his android phone, then you can read this article:

      Java, Flash, and related things are vulnerable because of the plugin system. Nowadays browsers only Flash plugin to operate. As long as you keep updating you will be ok.

    3. Lurking About said on June 25, 2017 at 5:31 pm

      clamav is in most distros repositories.

    4. Ron said on June 25, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      None. It’s up to Windows users to protect their own systems. If any Linux users are concerned about passing on a Windows virus to a Windows user I’d suggest using an online file scanner.

      1. trends said on June 25, 2017 at 6:52 pm

        CrashPlan backup (suggested by Mike)
        uses Java…

        Is it safe to install Java
        in Ubuntu Linux?.

        In Windows,
        I remember, JAVA was a “no-no”
        and a source of constant security and stability problems…

        Any ideas, opinions?

  20. The Mighty Buzzard said on June 25, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    I’d swap HexChat out for Xchat. It’s an actively developed fork while Xchat got abandoned about seven years ago.

  21. MichailRus said on June 25, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Use geany + geany-plugins instead of Notepadqq

    Use testdisk or scalpel to resurrect deleted files

    GoldenDict is the best dictionary, Also it supports ABBYY Lingvo format including pronunciation

    VirtualBox is pair to VMWare

    SANE, xsane to work with scanners

    hardinfo is Everest (AIDA) alternative

    Smartmontools to watch HDD or SSD SMART info

    clonezilla to do backups

    exfat-util, exfat-fuse – exfat file system drivers


    gparted is not install by default in Ubuntu. It manages disk parts.

    Octave and Cantor are MathCAD alternative

    dnscrypt-proxy to use DNSCrypt. It is DNS encryption against Internet provider censorship

    CDEmu is emulator of protected CD and DVD roms.

    double commander is Total Commander alternative.


    remmina is vnc and rdp client

    xvncviewer is TightVNC viewer

    wireshark is network scanner and sniffer

    Uget is the best linux download manager

    HTTraQt to copy whole web sites

    filezilla is FTP client

    p7zip-full is the best archive util, it is not install by default sometimes

    libreoffice-style-sifr is good icons for LibreOffice

    FreeCAD, librecad is CAD systems

    xchm to watch .chm files

    fbreader to read .fb2 books

    CuneiForm + YAGF + aspell + ocrodjvu + xsane – to OCR text

    Simple Scan to scan

    gscan2pdf to convert scanned pdf and djvu

    Scribus is Adobe InDesign alternative

    recordMyDesktop is desktop video recorder (record Desktop screen )

    EasyTag is mp3 tag editor

    SoundConverter is convert audio files

    Shotwell, digiKam and Fotoxx are image and photo managers

    Mixxx is audio editor

    vlc and smplayer are the best players

    Kdenlive, Shotcut, Cinelerra, Avidemux, Flowblade, HandBrake, and openshot are video editors

    Synfig is 2D animation editor

    gimp-data-extras and gimp-plugin-registry are essential packages for GIMP

    Inkscape is CorelDraw alternative

    Darktable is Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture alternative

    MyPaint, krita, pinta are Paint alternatives

    FontForge is font editor

    RawTherapee is raw photo editor

    Blender for 3D animation

    Audacity and Ardour are audio editors

    LabPlot for graphics and analysis

    Lightworks is closed source Apple FinalCut, Avid Media Composer, Pinnacle Studio alternative

    Akregator is rss and atom reader

    Marble is open street maps watcher

    gigolo to mount webdav and other

  22. RossN said on June 25, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I don’t think I saw a file explorer mentioned. When I used to play with Linux, I used the Midnight Commander (mc), as it was very similar to DOS-based file explorers.

    1. evenorbert said on June 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      If you like terminal based file managers, I can recommend you ranger too, it has image preview and other nice things.

    2. WarpspeedSCP said on June 25, 2017 at 11:39 am

      well, most distros have a really powerful file explorer already, so no real need to mention it.

      1. trends said on June 25, 2017 at 6:42 pm

        In Ubuntu 12.04,
        the [F3] kbd key would open a 2nd File pane,
        in the built-in File Explorer,
        but not in U 14.04…

        How to activate
        two side-by-side file panes
        in Ubuntu 14.04’s native File Explorer?.

        Mike, Anyone?

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