Using Linux for all your office needs
Using Linux for artwork
Playing and editing music/audio
Watching and editing videos
Burning CDs and DVDs
Watching and recording TV
Playing games on Linux
A video demonstrating how to get to grips with the Ubuntu Desktop
What would be the use in Linux if it didn't have kick-ass software? I'd rather put up with a poorer Operating System than have no software, wouldn't you?
Fortunately, Linux is teeming with great software for all sorts of purposes, and most of it is free of charge. This chapter discusses the most popular uses of a modern-day PC, and where Linux fits in with all of this.
Historically one of the downfalls of Linux was that good office software was lacking, making it an impractical system for Business users. From the late nineties onwards, this is no longer the case. Software like OpenOffice and KOffice are excellent, complete packages, and standalone software like AbiWord and MrProject add further to the great selection of tools.
With respect to Groupware tools, either Novell Evolution or Kontact provide all the features of popular groupware offerings from Lotus, Microsoft or Novell.
Office Package Software
|OpenOffice.org: Microsoft Office users will be pleased to know that the most popular Office suite in Linux, OpenOffice.org, supports Microsoft Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.
The latest incarnation of OpenOffice.org (version 2.0) includes a Word Processor (with export to PDF feature), Spreadsheet, Formula Maker, Sophisticated Database, Vector Drawing Tool, Presentation/Slide Creator and more!
How much does it cost? - Nothing! check out www.OpenOffice.org for more information.
Although OpenOffice.org is the most popular office suite for Linux today, it should be noted that KDE sports KOffice, which is similar to OpenOffice in many ways, and features much of it's functionality. GNOME also has various office components such as AbiWord and Gnumeric.
OpenOffice.org is developed in Java and is a fork of Sun Microsystem's StarOffice and is known to be a tad demanding upon machines with lower specifications and therefore you should have a look into these and other alternatives if you have a slower computer.
It is understandable that some users may not wish to move from what they know best. Even although OpenOffice is very similar in looks and features to Microsoft Office.
You may find solace in knowing that it is possible to run Microsoft Office as well as a great many other Windows apps on Linux! - Although it is not software written for Linux, it is possible to run it using software from a firm called CodeWeavers. The software, called Crossover Office supports Microsoft Office 95-2003, as well as many other popular Windows titles such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Visio, Lotus Notes, Apple iTunes and Macromedia Dreamweaver.
|Novell Evolution 2.0 is a groupware suite for performing all of your day to day E-Mail, Scheduling, Contact Management, Address Books and more.
Users can retrieve their E-Mail from a vast array of sources including IMAP, POP3, Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise Servers.
It's overall look and feel is similar to that of Microsoft Outlook, but enhances on a number of features, especially where security is important. It also supports PDA devices and LDAP servers for great connectivity, wherever you are.
The Evolution Groupware software now comes pre-installed with most distributions of Linux.
Amongst Evolution's competitors are:
KDE's contact management software that keeps on getting better and better.
Kontact features a Summary overview, a very capable E-Mail client, contact manager, to do list, journal, usenet news reader, note taker, RSS/Syndication client and a mobile device synchronisation tool.
Support for Novell GroupWare and Microsoft Exchange are not as mature as Evolution, but are pretty much there in terms of usability.
- Mozilla Thunderbird
Thunderbird is part of the FireFox family and is as sharp as it's browser counterpart. It offers E-Mail with built in Junkmail filters, IMAP and POP mail server support, contact manager and address book.
Artwork has often been the lair of Mac users. This is mainly for historic reasons these days - (Apple used to have an exclusive contract with Adobe). However, times have changed, and Windows users enjoy the same fruits as the Mac users do. It's also fair to say that some excellent software exists for Linux for vector and bitmap artists alike.
|The GIMP is the classic Photoshop-like image editor for Linux. It's now ten years old, and can do most of the features of all the popular off-the-shelf competitors. In case you were wondering, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Project.
GIMP was made with tasks like photo retouching, image composition and authoring in mind, and it should be fairly easy for an accomplished Photoshop user to convert to the GIMP. If you can't live without Photoshop, it is possible to use Photoshop in Linux, using Crossover.
|Inkscape is a vector graphics editor, similar to Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, CorelDraw, or Xara X using the Scalable Vector Graphics format.
Features include shapes, paths, text, markers, clones, alpha blending, transforms, gradients, patterns, and grouping. Inkscape also supports Creative Commons meta-data, node editing, layers, complex path operations, bitmap tracing, text-on-path, flowed text, direct XML editing, and more.
It imports formats such as JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and others and exports PNG as well as multiple vector-based formats.
Linux has many applications for playing music and it's also really taken off as a platform for audiophiles. If you are a budding DJ, or play with MIDI instruments, Linux is a great operating system to use. There is a wealth of software available today which exceeds the requirements of many a Cubase user, and all for free!
The first audio player for Linux was XMMS. It's very similar to the popular Winamp product for Windows. XMMS suits as a straightforward no-nonsense audio player, which accepts many plugins and Winamp 2.0 skins, however it's getting a tad dated, especially when it comes to competing with the likes of iTunes and similar software.
As usual, both KDE and GNOME desktops have excellent offerings, and whilst there is a wealth of audio player software available for both platforms, I will limit the following reviews to just two players, one from each desktop platform: Banshee (GNOME), and AmaroK (KDE).
|Banshee is one of these new-super apps made in the new language framework called Mono, which is based on C#/.NET. As well as that, it's a damn fine audio program.
Similar in interface to iTunes, it allows you to download/upload music to your ipod or other music device, as well as listen and organise all your music on your PC. It'll also rip audio CDs at the touch of a button, and will also soon burn music CDs as well. Whilst it is not the default music player for most GNOME based Linux distributions, it could well be soon!
IMPORTANT NOTE!: Why can't I play MP3s, and why don't I have Banshee?
|If you have just started using Ubuntu 5.10, you may notice that the default music player is called Rhythmbox. Furthermore, if you try to play an MP3 file, you will find that can't do it!
There is a good reason for this - Ubuntu, as with Fedora Core, Suse Open Edition and any other free Linux distribution cannot ship with software that is either not free, or contains a license which is considered commercial. It may not be illegal to distribute such software, but you may be required to accept a seperate license, or use the software on different terms than the rest of the system. In order to keep the licensing system sane, this software is distributed seperately from Ubuntu (as with other distributions).
In the case of MP3 support, the MPEG license is propriatery, but free to distribute, so adding support for MP3 is fairly easy to do. Here is how it's done in Ubuntu 5.10:
Firstly, open the Synaptic Package Manager (System Menu> Administration), you will need to enter your password to enable it.
Next, add the Universe and Multiverse Repositories, by clicking on the Settings Menu and then clicking Repositories:
Click on the Settings Menu, then click 'Repositories'
You will be asked if you wish to reload the package list from servers, Click Yes.
Once the update has been completed, you will be returned to the main Synaptic screen, where you will be able to use the 'Search' button.
Click Search and type banshee in the text box. Scroll down the lists of packages until you see banshee. Right click on Banshee and select 'Mark for Installation'.
You may be asked to 'Mark Additional Changes', which is fine. Click on Mark.
Repeat that same process for the following packages:
Once you have marked all the packages required, click on the Apply button (the green tick). You will be asked to confirm the changes, press the small apply button to continue and the packages will be downloaded and installed for you.
Once the installation process has completed, you will be able to run Banshee from the Applications> Sound and Video menu.
|amaroK, apart from having a stupid name is arguably the best music player out there.
Fans of iTunes will be immediately relieved to hear that it syncs with your iPod flawlessly.
It creates dynamic playlists too, like the party shuffle feature in iTunes, but better! amaroK features automatic CD cover finders for each album on your PC, so you know what the CD looks like when you play it. It also grabs the lyrics for every song you play on demand, as well as telling you pretty much all the info you would ever want to know about the band you are listening to, from Wikipedia. It also features a built in ID3 tag editor to sort out those rogue MP3s with invalid entries, and features MusicBrainz to take some of the guesswork out of it.
Again, there are so many good tools out there for sound editing, it is hard to name but a few here, but we will try to keep it to a good few!
|Ardour is a digital audio workstation which can be used to record, edit and mix multi-track audio. It even goes as far as mixing video soundtracks. Ardour is similar to ProTools in it's ultimate quest, and uses the much acclaimed JACK audio system.
Ardour has an excellent manual, and a quick and easy to use GUI. Ardour appears to be quick, snappy and doesn't use up too much CPU time, making it an excellent choice for a sound buff!
|Audacity is well worth a mention because whilst it does not have nearly the same amount of features and power of Ardour, it does fill all of the needs of a sound-editing novice, whilst still beating any ~$100 sound editor on the shelves.
Audacity's standard features can be picked up in a matter of minutes and allows for some really professional results. It offers unlimited tracks and many different effects in-built, so if all you need is straightforward multitrack or single-track editing, Audacity is a great tool.
|Rosegarden is a professional audio and MIDI sequencer, score editor, and general-purpose music composition and editing environment.
Rosegarden is an easy-to-learn, attractive application and ideal for composers, musicians, music students, small studio or home recording environments.
A new breed of Movie players cropped up around the advent of a new framework called GStreamer, which made it easy to code video players.
The most popular titles today are (in desktop order):
XINE it's self is a console based media client, but there are a large number of frontends for it, including gXINE and Kaffeine, mentioned above. XINE has a very robust architecture and is one of the oldest video players available for Linux.
Mplayer is almost the same age. I personally have never fully managed to get Mplayer to work on any platform, however, many others will tell you that it has more features than XINE, and a better interface. The choice will come down to you in the end, but the good thing is that you can usually try both!
Watching DVDs and other Rights Managed Media Types
|Just as with playing MP3s, DVDs and other formats such as DivX/Xvid, wmv and Quicktime all have their own propriatery plugins or codecs.|
Unfortunately, each Linux distribution deals with this slightly differently, although here are the instructions to get DVD/DivX/WMA working under Ubuntu 5.10:
Download the debian-mallirat win32codecs file from Here. Install the w32codecs deb file by using the terminal (Linux console/shell, and ensure that you have enabled the Ubuntu Multiverse and Universe):
- cd /directory_where_you_downloaded_w32codecs_to
sudo dpkg -i w32codecs_20050412-0.0_i386.deb
sudo apt-get install libdvdread3
|Currently, the two major contenders in the video editing arena for linux are Kino and LiVES.
Kino is part of the KDE desktop apps, but will run with only the QT libraries. Kino features excellent integration with IEEE-1394 for capture, VTR control, and recording back to the camera. It captures video to disk in Raw DV and AVI format, in both type-1 DV and type-2 DV (separate audio stream) encodings.
You can load multiple video clips, cut and paste portions of video/audio, and save it to an edit decision list (SMIL XML format). Kino can export the composite movie in a number of formats: DV over IEEE 1394, Raw DV, DV AVI, still frames, WAV, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4.
Over the last two years, burning media in Linux has become a whole lot easier for the average user. If you are a GNOME user, GnomeBaker, Serpentine and the GNOME file manager (Nautilus) will burn CDs for you.
Recently, Linux has come to great acclaim in the TV arena, due to the excellent range of software available at no cost. You can literally turn an old PC into a Linux style Sky Plus/Tivo box, all you need is a TV card and a big hard drive!
|MythTV is open source software that turns your PC into a PVR (Personal Video Recorder). It enables the user to pause live TV, Skip ads, use an electronic program guide, set recordings to record whole series of a particular program, edit recording schedules, organise and view your home photo and videocamera collections as well as listening to music and record content from the Internet, it excels at many points, making it a cut above the current offerings from Microsoft (Media Centre) and PowerCinema.
Also check out KnoppMyth,which is a pre-packaged distribution of MythTV, making it easy to install on a PC.
The Hauppage series of TV cards seems to work best with the Linux TV software as it is the most popular range, and best supported through the video4linux driver.
Games a have been a mixed bag with Linux, and still needs perfecting, however companies like id software and others are releasing their top titles for Linux as well as Windows these days, and is helping the overall popularity of Linux as a gamin platform no end.
Games such as the Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein series are available 'natively' for Linux (that is, the software is written to work in Linux). Other games which will also work with Linux such as the Soldier of Fortune series have been ported from their Windows base.
However, the majority of games software for the PC is still released for Windows only.
|There is a solution, however - a company called Transgaming Technologies has a product called Cedega which allows the user to play most of the Windows games titles within Linux. This software is not free, but is fairly priced, and offers a good degree of ease of use.
There are a great number of games which are also freely available Linux software which you can see at places such as linuxgames.com or happypenguin.org. Tux Games have done a great job of porting commercial games to Linux which you can buy for great prices.
Now that you've read all about the various different applications you can use every day on your Linux desktop, why not see it in action! The following videos taken from our Articles & Further reading section show you each element of the Ubuntu Desktop so you can completely familiarise yourself with all that it has to offer.