Five must-have apps for a new Linux install
I tend to hammer my Ubuntu laptop. Running a website like Tectonic means I am constantly installing new applications to try them out. Many of which I later have to remove or lie forgotten on the hard disk until I start to wonder where the +40GB of free hard disk space went to. And when that happens I tend to back up the essentials – email, documents and website backups – format my hard disk and install a clean version of Ubuntu. Doing this every few months means that a few times a year I get to really consider what the most important applications on my desktop are.
My most recent re-install was this weekend. I was running short of hard disk space and things were slowing down noticeably. I could have spent a good few hours cleaning out my hard disk but I don’t really want to. Sometimes a good clean-install is what is required.
The essential tools
So, having re-installed a brand new copy of Ubuntu and required updates, there are a few applications that I immediately download because, without them, I would not be able to do most of my day-to-day work. Here, in no particular order, are the five application or tools I have to have but aren’t included in a default Ubuntu install. If you work in media or website development many of these might sound familiar.
gFTP has been around since the early days of Linux and while not flashy and full of features it does the job at hand, which is upload and download files for the sites I manage. gFTP’s clear interface and simple navigation make it an essential part of my desktop arsenal. I know that Ubuntu has the ability to connect to FTP sites using the nautilus file manager but I still find the side-by-side arrangement of gFTP, and the ability to compare a local development site with a live hosted one, essential. gFTP is also lightweight and quick, which makes it essential.
sudo apt-get install gftp
For most graphic and drawing needs Inkscape is the best possible application. I use it every day for simple logos, icons and pictures for the websites I manage. There are many other, sometimes more feature-full, graphics alternatives available but I find that Inkscape is straighforward to use and the many features it does have don’t get in the way of doing simple graphics tasks. Combined with the Gimp, which is included in the Ubuntu default install, pretty much any graphics task is easy to do.
sudo apt-get install inkscape
Apache, MySQL and PHP
I’ve put these together because there really is no point in having one but not the others. If you do any web development you’ll want to install the lot. Running a webserver on your own machine is the only way to develop and test websites. There was a time when installing these three and getting them to work together was something of a headache. In Ubuntu now it’s pretty much taken care of. To install MySQL you need to:
sudo apt-get install mysql-server-5.0
During the install you will be prompted for a root password. Make sure to give one so you can log into MySQL when you’re done.
Installing PHP and Apache next is equally simple:
sudo aptitude install apache2 php5 libapache2-mod-php5
Once you’ve done that restart the Apache server:
sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart
Point your browser to http://localhost to test if it works.
This is another of those applications that have been around since the early days of Linux and I have grown to feel quite attached to it. Bluefish is a programming tool ideal for HTML and PHP work but equally at home with other languages. Syntax highlighting and a collection of pre-built HTML and PHP elements make Bluefish an everyday tool of mine. Like many of my other favourite and most-used applications Bluefish hides a great number of features behind a seemingly simple interface. One of these is Bluefish’s colour dropper feature which picks colours from anywhere on your screen and converts to HTML-friendly codes. It’s ideal for colour-matching for website designs.
sudo apt-get install bluefish
The only other thing I need to install on a clean install of Ubuntu is a handful of Firefox extensions: Firebug, TinyURL Creator and Web Developer. I find Firebug is fantastic at pinpointing weaknesses in the wbsites I am working on. It can isolate elements that are slowing down the site or just not working correctly. Web developer does similar things but I find that it is better for collecting amazing amounts of information about any website, from the size of the website to embedded images and styles. On a daily basis I use both.The other extension I always have is the TinyURL Creator. I spend a lot of my day sending or storing links to information I want to share. 300-character URLs are ugly and cumbersome.
Got favourite applications you can’t live without? Tell us in the comments.