Must Have Essential Applications for Desktop Linux Users
Brief: What are the must-have applications for Linux? The answer is subjective, and it depends on what purposes you have for using desktop Linux. But there are still some essential Linux apps that are more likely to be used by most Linux users. Here, we’ve listed the best Linux applications that you should have installed on every Linux distribution you use.
In the world of Linux, there are alternatives to everything. Choosing a distro? There are dozens of them. Trying to find a decent music player? Lots of alternatives there too.
But not all of them are built with the same thing in mind – some of them might target minimalism, while others might offer tons of features. Finding the right application for your needs can be quite a confusing and tiresome task. Let’s make it a bit easier.
Essential applications for Linux users
I’ve put together a list of the essential Linux applications that I prefer to use in different categories. I’m not saying that they are the best, but I’ve tried lots of applications in each category and these are the ones I liked the most. So, you’re more than welcome to mention your favorite applications in the comments section too.
We’ve also had a video on this before (with a few different apps). Do subscribe to our YouTube channel for more educational Linux videos like this one:
We’ll mention some non-FOSS apps here as well (for the sake of regular users who just want a working desktop) – so feel free to let us know your non-FOSS suggestions after reading our recommendations.
In addition, we’ve categorized the apps as well to get you started!
We’ve already discussed some of the best photo applications for Linux. Here we’ll mention two essential tools for every type of user.
Allowing plugins that extend its functionality while being an open source solution is impressive. It offers almost every type of tool you will ever require manipulating an image, scale it, crop it, or simply add a layer to it. You can install it from your AppCenter or Software Center, or visit GIMP’s website to download it.
One of the best Linux tools for digital artists, Inkscape is certainly an impressive image editor as well. Unlike GIMP, Inkscape comes pre-installed on most of the major Linux distros. It offers a bunch of drawing tools and vector graphics editing capabilities making it a powerful choice for manipulating images as well.
We’ve mentioned several audio editors in the past, but Audacity is the most popular tool for basic editing tasks. You can try to experiment and pull off something interesting as well. It supports plugins to extend its functionality. If you’re wondering: it’s open-source software and available for free. You can install it directly from the App Center or Software Center, or from the official download page.
LMMS is a free Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for Linux. It’s a feature-rich alternative to premium audio editors (or DAWs) for creating, editing, and recording music. If you have a MIDI device, you can just plug it into your machine and get started with LMMS. It also supports VST plugins to enhance your output. You can directly download it from the App Center or the Software Center. To build from source, check out their GitHub page.
Evolution is the default mail app for GNOME desktop users, and it is quickly replacing Thunderbird as a pre-installed mail client on a lot of Linux distributions.
It offers an improved layout over Thunderbird and also supports Microsoft Exchange using an extension.
You can check out its GNOME wiki page to find links to Flatpak and other installation options.
A simple and free email client developed by Mozilla. You may find it pre-installed on some Linux distributions – if not, you can easily install it using your Software Center or App Center. You can also download it from their website and then install it.
It offers most of the features you need – however, the UI may be the only downside for some.
Signal is a popular open-source instant messaging app as one of the alternatives to WhatsApp.
We also have a guide to help you install Signal in Linux to get started.
Element is a secure open-source collaboration platform built on Matrix network.
It may not be a popular choice, but it offers plenty of features as a replacement to many other proprietary options for personal or work communication.
Screen Recording and Streaming Tools
Blogger, YouTuber or work in similar industries? Here are a few tools for you.
If you’ve been following us, you might have already read about the best screen recorders available for Linux. Kazam is the most simple solution among them. It lets you record your screen and includes a number of essential features like giving you the ability to select the area/window, hiding/showing the cursor, and enabling the sound from your mic/speaker. For installation instructions, their GitHub page would be your best bet.
Open Broadcaster Software is a pretty popular and robust screen recorder app often used by streamers.
You can heavily customize it, add your own template, etc. So there’s a lot of things you can do once you start exploring it. OBS is suitable for both personal and professional users – it’s not the easiest but it’s really useful.
Flameshot is my personal favorite for taking screenshots and annotating them. Heck, you can even directly upload your images to Imgur without needing to save them on your PC. I use this no matter what Linux distro I install — it’s so easy and flexible, you might want to install it too.
A quite simple Qt-based cross-platform screenshot tool that offers more annotation features. We’ve discussed multiple ways to take screenshots in Linux, and using Ksnip is one of them. It’s fairly new, and not the most popular screenshot tool out there, but it works as expected. Refer to the GitHub page for more info.
System Optimizers/Task Managers
Stacer is my favorite system optimizer and task manager on Linux, with a beautiful user interface.
You get not only a pretty UI but also a solid set of features to help you in the best way possible. You can manage startup tasks, clean temporary/cache files, manage running services, uninstall packages, and monitor your system resources easily. Check out their GitHub page for installation instructions.
You probably know about the default “top” CLI tool. It’s still useful – but not the best out there.
So if you’re looking for a better command-line based tool, htop is the perfect replacement. You no longer need to type in the process number to kill it, just navigate to it and end it. It’s way easier and faster than the traditional top CLI tool.
You can also take a look at our list of top alternatives to find more utilities for system monitoring.
Apps for Gamers
Yes, Steam is a proprietary client or marketplace for purchasing/installing/managing your Linux games. But it’s the best client out there, also offering a huge library to choose from. You’ll find both free and paid options, so browse through them. To install it, you can download the .deb file from its official download page or find the installer on AppCenter or Software Center.
Without a second thought, if you’re a gamer, you have to install this one right away. Do note that it’s not an open source application.
Yes, there are alternatives to it. But nothing beats Discord when it comes to the ability to manage a server room where fellow gamers can interact and communicate on voice channels in-game. You can easily install Discord on Linux.
Audacious is a simple music player that is low on resources while being an open-source solution. You can customize the interface to give it a different look. To add songs, just drag and drop the folder you want. You can either install it from the Software Center or visit the official download page.
Go on, get started!
I’ve tried a lot of video players on my Windows machine and on Linux systems as well – but I keep going back to VLC pretty much every time. VLC is a simple media player that’s open-source and free as well. It supports almost every type of file format. You can download it from their website or find it on your Software Center.
Media Server Software
Let’s have a look at some media server software for Linux.
Kodi is definitely one of the best media server programs available for Linux. Many of the other best media server tools are based on Kodi as well.
Plex is not entirely open-source media server software, but it offers an option to create a free account. A nice UI with all the basic features you need included. Feel free to install Plex on Ubuntu.
If I had to choose the top two best video editors for Linux, these would be my picks.
Kdenlive is one of the best free video editing programs available for Linux. It’s an open-source solution and also offers support for dual monitors. It includes most of the necessary features like basic transition effects, layout customization, multi-track editing, and so on.
OpenShot is an open source video editor which is easy to use and robust as well. It includes 3D effects, basic video transitions, drag and drop support, and so on.
If you want to use it for professional-grade editing, you be the judge.
Open-Source Media Converters
Handbrake is an impressive video converter. It supports a wide range of video codecs and quickly converts your videos. Of course, you get to choose the quality or resolution, frame rate, and a lot of other things like subtitles while converting the video.
Fret not if you’re a fan of audio instead of video. We’ve got you.
SoundConverter is a powerful audio conversion tool that supports almost all file formats and converts audio files pretty fast.
Backup is one of the essential parts of not only Linux but any operating system. Here are two options for you.
Yes, we often keep a backup of our files. But what about the driver updates and configuration changes that you perform? What if these break your entire system? In this case, Timeshift will help you take a backup (or a snapshot) of your entire OS along with all its configurations. You can easily restore it when something goes wrong. We have a guide to how to use Timeshift on Linux as well.
Bacula is a feature-rich open-source backup tool available for Linux.
It’s not just a single program but includes a number of tools for every specific option. Also, it’s somewhat developer-oriented, so if you maintain a network of computers, you can definitely make use of Bacula.
PDF Editing Tools
For basic PDF editing tasks, LibreOffice Draw is the go-to solution for users who prefer FOSS. It has its limitations – but works like a charm for most use-cases. If it doesn’t fit your needs, you can check out the best Linux PDF editors available.
PDF Studio is an amazing PDF editor by Qoppa software. It’s not an open source offering – in fact, it’s a paid solution for users looking to edit PDF files. It offers a bunch of features (annotate, edit, optimize, sign, watermark, etc.) for manipulating PDF files easily.
Code and Text Editors
Even though we’re Linux users, I’ve noticed that a lot of people like the Visual Studio Code editor. It includes a smart feature to autocomplete what you write based on variable type or function definition. It’s highly recommended if you’re working with Git, because the relevant commands are built-in. And as you start exploring, you’ll discover that there’s so much more to it.
There’s also an unofficial open-source version of it, i.e. VS Codium.
In addition to VS Code, you can also look at some of the best modern code editors for your work.
An open-source editor with a lot of features. If you’re writing scientific documents or a thesis, this can come in handy with its formula editor to make things easier. You can download it right from the AppCenter or Software Center. More information can be found on their website.
Even though we’ve already talked about some of the best LaTeX editors, I’ll mention this as one of the essential additions to your Linux system. It’s specifically tailored for the GNOME environment but works everywhere. Its PDF conversion is blazing fast. Try it by downloading it from the App Center/Software Center or the official site.
Note Taking Apps
Simplenote is one of the best Evernote alternatives available for Linux. The organization behind WordPress (Automattic) is responsible for developing Simplenote. So it’s actively maintained and offers all the basic note taking features (and syncing capabilities) across multiple devices for free.
In addition to this, you can also try some of the best note taking apps for Linux.
Laverna is an open-source note taking app available for free. You can use it as a web-based tool with its encryption functionality, or download it to your desktop.
It’s easy to use, with a decent UI. In addition, it also supports code highlighting and a to-do task list to make things easier. Give it a try!
Team Communication & Productivity
Even at It’s FOSS we used Slack before moving to our self-hosted Rocket.Chat instance — be it on a random topic or when something requires collaboration. This is not an open-source solution.
Slack on Linux is available for free, and you can opt to upgrade it to the premium version for more features. You won’t be needing a premium plan unless you’re an enterprise user with a bunch of users to manage. Free or premium, it’s an essential addition.
You can also look for open-source Slack alternatives if you don’t like it.
With this app, you no longer have to switch between different browser tabs or applications while working on something. Franz combines almost all the essential messaging/email services under one roof. You just have to launch a single application (and sign in to multiple services) to keep up with all the communication you need without switching to different applications.
If you don’t like it, there are alternatives like Rambox.
Oracle VM VirtualBox
VirtualBox is an amazing free and open-source virtualization solution for those who want to try different distros (or experiment with stuff) without affecting your host system. There are numerous uses for it – go explore!
Almost everyone uses 2-factor authentication to secure their online accounts. But usually, you need your smartphone along with an authentication app for the codes, right? Fret not, with Authy, an alternative to Google Authenticator, you’ll be able to sync 2FA codes across devices without the risk of losing them. It is available for Android, iOS, Linux, Windows, and macOS as well.
We’ve tried to list all the essential applications for a Linux user here. But then again, you might have a favorite that we’ve missed.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.