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Revision as of 00:49, 15 July 2012 by Ikt (Talk | contribs)


Installing software on GNU/Linux

A note before I start on specific software:

Most Linux distributions include a "package manager". This is a marvelous piece of software that, as the name suggests, manages the various software packages on your computer.

Think of it like "Windows Update" for your entire PC, not just Windows - it will update and maintain every single piece of software on your system. Not only that, but every package I'm going to mention is included in the package manager and means that if you install it this way, it will self-update as new and improved versions come out over the months/years.

Windows users are very used to downloading .exe files directly off websites and installing/running them. While this is possible to do with Linux executables (note fore new users: Linux executables do not contain the ".exe" extension) it is not recommended. Instead, I wholly recommend you learn your particular distro's package manager, and how to use it. Not only can you use it to install the 10,000+ different free applications available, but it will keep all installed programs up to date (not just the OS).

You will occasionally need to venture outside the package manager to install things, but please use this as your last resort. If you use a distro with good support forums, you may find a kind soul or organisation who has set up a "repository" for the software you want, and they have volunteered to maintain it over time. If you can, utilise these as they will give you far less grief over time.

Ubuntu users, click Applicaions -> Add/Remove to start the graphical package manager up. Search via the provided categories, or use the search tool if you know the exact name of the package. Chapter 3 of the Ubuntu documentation covers this in detail:

For other distro users, seek your distro's documentation to find out where a similar application is.

I will provide web links for all software I talk about. Please use these for research and information only. If you want to install the software, again I urge you to use your system's package manager, and not download stuff directly from websites for all the reasons I outline above.

Office Software

Lets get stuck right into it with office software. Microsoft Office is by far and large the most common corporate-style Office package there is, and a very large reason why users choose Microsoft Windows as their platform of choice. As a user looking to switch to Linux, there's a very good chance you will need to use some sort of office software at some time.

There's absolutely no shortage of Office software for Linux. Getting stuck straight into the options:

Open Office

I'm a big fan of Open Office. It's available for Linux, Windows and MacOSX, so even non-Linux users can benefit from this. I find it a completely comprehensive Office system packed with more features than even Microsoft Office. Many of my Windows-using clients have switched to this and found it to be a great alternative that offers them better workflow and more options than Microsoft Office. Plus upgrades are free, which means no more paying hundreds of dollars per workstation to keep up to date with the latest standards.

It comes with the following components:

Open Office Writer:

Standard word processor. Has an ENORMOUS range of dictionaries (great if you speak or write multiple languages - I come from a Dutch father and a French mother, so this suits me perfectly). Will read from and write to almost every document standard including Microsoft Word. It can also export directly to PDF without the need for Acrobat software. By default all OO packages use the international standard XML-based document filetype (which takes up a LOT less space than MS Office's filetypes, I might add). This default can be changed if the user you are setting it up for can't understand the difference between filetypes, and needs to interact with all-Microsoft users.

Open Office Calc:

Spreadsheet. Like Writer, it will read from and write to MS Excel documents, and export to PDF.

Open Office Impress:

Read/write PowerPoint presentations. Exports to PDF, and to Macromedia Flash SWF files for use on the web. Great for making a presentation, and then putting it on a website afterwards.

Open Office Math:

If you've ever tried to document maths information in a word processor, you'll know how maddening it is to store all the special symbols. OO Math is a dedicated maths tool for doing just this. Great for students, engineers, technicians, or anyone that needs to document maths formulae. As usual, PDF export is there.

Open Office Draw:

Easy to use drawing package that allows you to do things like flowcharts, coversheets, and other useful documents. I've lost count at how many network diagrams I've drawn up in this. And you guessed it, PDF export.

Open Office Base:

Database forms frontend. Will tie nicely into MySQL and PostGRESQL database engines. As of Oopen Office 2.0 I believe there is now MS Access compatibility added too, but I have not used it.

GNOME Office

IMHO not as fully featured as Open Office, but a much more lightweight alternative for people who either have older/slower machines, or just need a simple set of tools that aren't as heavy as Open Office. Work is being done to port the suite to Windows and Native MacOSX, but Mac/X users can use it now via FINK.

Unlike Open Office, the following can all be installed separately. No need to download everything if you only want a single part.

Components include:

Abi Word:

Nice quick word processor with all the features you'd expect.


The original spreadsheet tool for Linux. This has been around a long time, and again is a nice light alternative to Open Office.


Database frontend to plug into MySQL. I've not used it, so I can't comment.


The KDE team are never out done. They too have a comprehensive office suite. Like GNOME-Office, there's no compulsion to install all components. Install only what you need if you want to keep a lean system:

KWord: KSpread: KPresenter: Kexl

Aka Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. You know them well.


Line/flowchart drawing.


Vector art tool. Similar to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Xara and Inkscape.


Basic image editor. Similar to a lightweight Adobe Photoshop or GIMP. Has recently added support for extended colours systems, including 16bpp RGB as well as CMYK.


Resource management, planning and Gantt charting ala Microsoft Project. Excellent tool for planning any multi-person project.


Like Open Office Math, it's a formula writer for the mathsy folks out there.

That pretty much covers the popular alternatives. There's more out there, but these are the most popular and mature/usable for home users, students, and corporate offices alike.

All of these systems are free (as in freedom) and free (as in no cost). Don't feel that you need to limit yourself to one system. Try them all out and see which suits your needs the best. As mentioned, I use Open Office primarily, but it lacks a Gantt Charting tool for when I do project work, so I switch to KOffice's KPlato system for that. I'll talk about desktops a little later on, but GNOME users can happily use KDE programs and vice versa. Don't be afraid to try programs from other desktop systems!

<< Part 3 | Part 4 >>

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