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Favourite Linux Desktop Applications //at 15:01 //by abe

from the GUI dept.

foosel tagged me, whatever that means. Perhaps it’s the English word for “Stöckchen” (German for “small stick”) of which I always wondered how the English blogging part of the blogosphere is calling that kind of coercing blog posts… ;-)

So these are the rules:

  1. blog a list with your favorite desktop Linux software (as many or few you want)
  2. add links to the software project’s websites
  3. post these rules
  4. tag three other Linux using bloggers

Interestingly splitbrain, who started the thing just calls it “Meme”, but to me memes are the same thing just without duress. ;-)

So you want to know about what Linux desktop software I like and use, hmm? Desktop means GUI, doesn’t it? There are only a few GUI application I really use often since, as you probably know, X is primarily a terminal multiplexer and screen resolutions are compared by how many 80×25 xterms with fixed font you can get on one screen without overlapping. ;-)

But to be honest: Although I’m more the command line guy hacking cryptic lines into windows with small fonts, there are a few thing where I don’t want to miss X and the GUI applications: For all things web – that means web browser, feed reader, etc. But then there is also a bunch of GUI software I use occasionally or as alternative tool to some text mode or command line software.


  • Liferea – My favuorite feed reader although it takes ages to start and since a few days also starts crashing, probably since I have configured it to cache up to 1000 items per feed and have subscribed to several hundred feeds.

    I do not read them all though, but I use them togther with Liferea’s “search all feeds” feature as a Google News replacement. ;-) I though read a lot of feeds in it, since I use it for news, blogs, webcomics and to read missed tweets on Twitter. It organizes the feeds in a tree structure so I can easily group different types of content together.

  • Opera – I’m back using Opera as my primary web browser since they offer alpha versions for 64-bit Linux.

    Initally I started using Opera with version 3.60 on Windows 95 somewhere about 10 years ago and I’ve always come back to it when no current free browser fits my needs.

    Although it hasn’t an AddOn possibility as Firefox has, I still prefer it over the bloaty and leaky and quite unstable Firefox 2, since it offers nearly every functionality I need (mainly mouse gestures and a flexible tab management), is fast, needs less RAM and is quite stable for an alpha version. And Firefox only offers those features I need via Addons which are often the cause for leaking or crashing. Haven’t tested Firefox 3 yet, but it’s said to be be less bloaty…

  • Kazehakase – Formerly I used kazehakase as my primary web browser since I really like its user interface, but the version in Etch is quite slow and seems to have memory leaks. It’s currently the second browser I have always open. But since my browsers always have uptimes in terms of months I don’t need web browsers that are leaking, so I’m thinking about replacing it with something more stable.

  • Conkeror – A Gecko 1.9 (i.e. Firefox 3) based web browser completely controllable with the keyboard. And the key bindings are those from Emacs and partially also from the classic text-mode browser Lynx. Will be available in Debian Experimental soon.

  • Netsurf looks very promising as it’s a simple and fast browser with it’s own rendering engine and originating on RISC OS. But since I’m a heavy tab user (60 tabs in one window are not really seldom), a browser (yet) without tabs isn’t really that useful for me. But I hope it will get tabs soon.

  • Midori – The other upcoming new browser in the Linux world is using Apple’s WebKit (which itself is based on KDE’s KHTML) underneath. Only in Experimental yet (form a Debian point of view :-). Use it on my Debian Sid machine to play around with it.

  • Twitux – A simple GTK Twitter client which doesn’t clutter the screen with unnecessary icons or buttons. Just a small menu bar, status bar and the tweets.

  • Azureus – In the seldom case where I need to download files via Bittorrent I either use Opera’s builtin client or Azureus. The nice thing about Azureus is that you can get nice graphical as well as textual statistics about all aspects of your downloads.

X / Desktop Environment

  • FVWM – My favourite window manager for normal, big or multiple screens. I use it since more than 10 years (twm and tvtwm were its predecessors) and its configuration has evolved since then quite a bit to tinted transparent window frames and title bars, etc.

    I tried other window managers in between (e.g. Sawfish and GNOME’s own Metacity, each for a month or so and both together GNOME, also played around with KDE on one machine) and I always came back to FVWM. No other window manager is so fast and configurable in regards of keybindings. Handles multiple screen very well and out of the box, too.

  • ratpoison – My favourite window manager for small screens (less than about 1024×768, e.g. on my EeePC, on the 8” touchscreen connected to my MicroClient Jr. or on my 1996 ThinkPad 760ED with 133 MHz Pentium 1) since it doesn’t waste screen space for window borders or title bars. It just maximizes all windows by default to screen resolution. You then can manage (split, resize, switch, close, kill) windows as you are used to manage shells and text-mode applications with screen(1). Doesn’t work that well with multiple xrandr managed screens though if they don’t have the same size.

  • FLWM – The Fast and Light Window Manager. My favourite low-end but still DAU compatible window manager. Use that on demo and guest accounts, especially on low end machines.

  • Synergy – connects displays of other computers (not only X but also even Mac or Windows) with your mouse and keyboard similar to a KVM switch. I use it at work to add my laptop as fourth monitor. ;-)

  • trayer – A desktop environmen independend system tray developed by the FVWM Crystal Project. Since I changed from manually editing /etc/network/interface on my laptop each time I came into a new wireless LAN to using GNOME’s Network Manager, I needed a system tray for the nm-applet. Trayer is quite easy to configure using command line options and can handle tinted transparency as I use with FVWM and ATerms. So it fits in perfectly.

  • ratmenu and dmenu – For showing generated menus together with ratpoison, I use ratmenu (e.g. as replacement for ratpoison’s non-interactive window list) and dmenu (e.g. as application menu using my own wrapper which generates the menu from some config file). Probably will publish that code once it proved itself stable.

  • xtrlock – the simplest tool to lock you desktop: The mouse turns into a lock and it only goes away if you enter the right password. No screen saver included though and everyone can see what’s on your desk. I like it though. Use it on low-end machines.

  • XScreenSaver and Really Slick Screensavers (GLX Port) – Configurable and command controllable screen saver daemon. Favourite modes: GLMatrix and Substrate from XScreenSaver and Lattice Sky Rocket and Hufo’s Smoke from RSS GLX.

  • xosview – my favourite system monitor since more than a decade.


  • xterm – there is no better X terminal emulator than the original xterm. I found no other terminal which is so fast, has no problems with text-mode applications (aterms break aptitude’s display), no problems with character set encodings, which can be embedded into other applications and which has a fully working classic Unix cut & paste.

  • aterm – When I need a fancy transparent terminal for showing a fancy desktop, I use the AfterStep Terminal Emulator aterm. In that case, the system tray, the window borders, the window’s title bar and the terminal on my desktop have the same fancy tinted transparency.

  • yeahconsole – A wrapper around xterm which works like the pulldown console in quake. Good for the short shell usage inbetween. ;-)

    The other similar pull down consoles I know (KDEish yakuake and GNOMEish tilda) had some issues with focus and keybindings while yeahconsole works just out of the box and showed no problems until now.

Audio and Video

  • XMMS and Audacious – If I want to play a single list of files of the same file format or single stream, I usually use the command line tools mpg123 and ogg123. But if I need anything more fancy or more flexible, I prefer the WinAMP clones. Formerly XMMS, nowadays Audacious. Both with some old skin which I use since more than a decade and which I initially used with WinAMP 2 on Windows 95.

  • mplayer – no fancy GUI, easily controllable with the keyboard, plays most video file formats I can remember. ;-)

Editing and Developing

  • GNU Emacs – I’ve been raised with GNU Emacs and Lisp at university, so I’m quite sticked to that. I usually only start one Emacs instance and connect to it using emacsclient. I also like TRAMP for editing remote files. but I don’t need it that often.

    On machines, where I don’t want a full blown Emacs installation or under root I prefer GNU Emacs’ little brother GNU Zile (Zile Is a Lossy Emacs), but that’s text-mode and no GUI software.

  • OpenOffice.org – I think it’s a really great software, but I use it quite seldom, usually only when I have to open some file in a Microsoft file format. For writing letters, articles, presentations and so I have LaTeX.

  • Gnumeric – My preferred spreadsheet application. Although for some purposes I use the OpenOffice.org spreadsheet, usually when Gnumeric has not all necessary features.


  • xv – Yet another tool I use since more than a decade: No other image viewer is so fast and yet so easy to use with both keyboard and mouse. Open source, but unfortunately not (yet?) free software.

  • keyjnote – fancy PDF presenter with a lot of interactive features.

  • pdfcube – PDF presenter turning pages as a cube as compiz or Macs do with the desktop.


  • Pidgin – I usually use irssi inside a screen for IRC as well as Jabber and ICQ (via Bitlbee), but I also often have a local Jabber client running which then is Pidgin (formerly known as GAIM).

Other Tools

  • Unison – I use it to synchonise the cache and state of my feed reader between laptop and workstation. And I do indeed prefer the GUI version over the text-mode version. I use the text-mode only if I use it from some remote location.

  • XKeyCaps – The ideal tool to wreck you keyboard layout. ;-)

  • XGnokii – Used it to backup my former Nokia mobile phones, the 6130, the 6210i and the 6310i. Doesn’t work anymore with my new E51, though.

  • Sunbird / Iceowl – Not really using it yet, but I plan to use it as my primary calendar tool.

  • QEMU / KVM / KQEMU – My favourite desktop hardware emulator. (For servers, I prefer Xen for virtualization.)


Non-Desktop Applications

In case someone wonders about my mail client, Jabber client, IRC client, ICQ client, file manager, notes taking application, shell and versioning system – they’re all command line or text-mode applications:

Who’s next?

That’s difficult:

  • maol would be interesting, but since a while he just blogs in Jeopardy style, so he would need pack all those programs into the subject of his blog post… No, not a good idea.
  • Venty! No, has no active blog anymore.
  • Dieter! No, no Linux user.

Hmmm, I think I have to look in a different corner of my circle of friends. Hmm. Ah, now I know:

  • dyfa – not really a Linux user, but I guess FreeBSD is ok, too. :-)
  • nion – this will be really interesting. He even uses more strange software than I do. ;-)
  • alphascorpii – no idea what she prefers (except that it will be available as Debian package ;-)

And no, I don’t expect posts as comprehensive as mine. :-)

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Hackergotchi of Axel Beckert


This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the Network Security Group (NSG) of the Central IT Services (Informatikdienste) at ETH Zurich.

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