Updated by Bertel King, Jr. on June 22nd 2017
You’ve made the switch from Windows or Mac OS X, and now you’re looking for applications to install. Or maybe you’re a long-time Linux user who’s keeping an eye out for what’s new. Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
You’ve already picked a Linux distro and have settled on a desktop environment. Those are the big choices that determine what software you start with and what will run best on your machine. But now it’s time to delve through your distro’s app repositories to see what’s worth installing.
Most of the software below is free and open source. Some applications are proprietary, and one on this list costs a good deal of money. The vast majority only require you to open up a package manager (such as Ubuntu Software, GNOME Software, Muon Discover, or YaST) and perform a search. Or you can dish out a few commands.
A few require you to download an installer from a website. If a link below doesn’t take you to a giant download button, then there’s a good chance the first approach will work just fine. So without further ado, here are the apps.
Firefox has lost market share over the years, but it remains the best fully open source browser around. Mozilla bakes in privacy options that don’t come with Chrome, and with the right add-ons, you can make Firefox feel at home on nearly any Linux desktop. Newer updates have given the browser a speed boost and made it more competitive against Chrome.
By some measures, Chrome is now the king of the hill. The browser has become so powerful that you can buy a Chromebook and do most of your computing without needing another app. All of this functionality is available on Linux. You need to download Chrome from Google’s website, but you can download Chromium directly from many Linux repos.
Opera isn’t open source, but it is free. You won’t find the web browser in your distro’s repos, but the website offers DEBs and RPMs for Linux. Opera isn’t nearly as popular as Chrome or Firefox, but it’s the third most mainstream browser you can install on your Linux desktop. And since Opera continues to need ways to differentiate itself, the latest version contains a built-in ad blocker and a VPN.
There aren’t many browsers developed explicitly for Linux. GNOME Web browser, also still known by its original name — Epiphany — is one of the older ones around. Later versions offer the best integration you will find with GNOME Shell. It lacks the add-ons found in mainstream browsers, but some users will like the minimalism, the speed, and the tab isolation that prevents one misbehaving site from crashing the entire browser.
None of the above browsers look quite at home on the KDE Plasma desktop. If visual integration is important to you, then I would suggest QupZilla. Support may not be as solid as the above browsers, but it will get you across most of the web. In the past I would have recommended rekonq, but that browser hasn’t seen a major update in a few years. QupZilla remains under steady development.
Thunderbird is the email client from Mozilla. While it doesn’t have quite the name recognition as Firefox, it is perhaps second only to Outlook in the world of dedicated email clients. This cross-platform tool operates the same on Linux as it does elsewhere, so there’s a decent chance new Linux users will find it familiar.
Geary isn’t the default GNOME email client, but it looks the part. This app comes from Yorba, a now defunct developer of open source apps that also brought us the Shotwell photo manager. The Elementary Project has since forked Geary and changed the name to Pantheon Mail, but it promises future updates will remain compatible with other distros.
Evolution is the official email client of the GNOME project. It has grown long in the tooth, but in terms of features and stability, Geary doesn’t quite compare. Plus Evolution comes with a built-in calendar, address book, and to-do list.
Want a client that feels at home on the KDE desktop? This is the one. KMail is part of the larger Kontact suite, but you can use the application independently for a more lightweight experience.
Claws Mail is a great choice for a lightweight app that doesn’t have the heavy dependencies required by most of the alternatives. This makes it a good fit on lean desktops such as XFCE and LXDE. With a lengthy list of features, you get to keep most of the functionality you expect.
Pidgin is a cross-platform instant messenger that has been around for decades and attracted millions of users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Pidgin a perfect score on its secure messaging scorecard in summer 2015, so you don’t need to have friends spread across numerous messaging services to have this app installed.
Empathy is the default client for GNOME. As a result, it comes pre-installed on many distros that utilize that desktop environment. In addition to text, you can communicate using audio and video on protocols supported by the telepathy framework.
This is the KDE community’s new approach to instant messaging. Compared to other options, KDE Telepathy offers better integration with the Plasma desktop. It replaces Kopete, KDE’s previous default instant messenger for many years.
LibreOffice is the best office suite you can find on Linux. It’s so capable of taking on Microsoft Office that millions of people install it on Windows. Without spending a buck, you get most of the features you could want and great compatibility with Microsoft Office’s document formats.
LibreOffice is a massive suite, so it can feel heavy at times. GNOME offers a range of applications built explicitly for free desktops, and they take up fewer system resources. If you don’t need quite as many features and aren’t as concerned about maintaining compatibility with Microsoft Office, you may find you prefer AbiWord and Gnumeric to LibreOffice Writer and Calc.
Calligra is an office suite that feels at home on KDE. The interface is designed with wide-screen monitors in mind, and like the Plasma desktop as a whole, it’s very customizable. Calligra isn’t as mature as LibreOffice or GNOME Office, but it’s worth using if you prefer to stick with QT applications.
Maybe you simply want something that looks and feels like Microsoft Office. WPS Office does, and it’s available for Linux. This isn’t open source software, but for many Linux users, that isn’t always a priority.
Audacity is a popular tool for recording and editing audio. Want to record an album or make your own podcast? Audacity is an easy recommendation across Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X alike.
GIMP is the most mature and feature-rich image editor available for any open source desktop. It’s also the best free application of its kind across any operating system. GIMP is an alternative to PhotoShop, and more than capable of holding its own. Some people may prefer the Adobe interface, but with the addition of a single window view several years back, GIMP may feel more familiar than you think.
OpenShot is a great video editor for creating a home video to preparing a recording for YouTube. It first launched in 2008,but it became much better after version 2.0. While this isn’t the kind of tool you will find in production studios, with 3D animation, compositing, audio mixing, and more, there are plenty of advanced features at hand.
Just want the basics, such as the ability to trim clips, insert transitions, and add a few effects? PiTiVi has you covered. It’s not very advanced, but for home use, it’s a capable tool.
Again, the KDE project has an option of its own. Kdenlive is more powerful than PiTiVi, making it a great alternative to OpenShot. Start here if you use a QT-based desktop, though you may still want to try it even if you aren’t.
Ready to get serious? Lightworks is arguably the best video editor on the Linux desktop. It’s good enough that several Hollywood productions have used this app to produce feature films. But there’s a cost — a big one. The pro version of Lightworks will cost you hundreds of dollars. Fortunately the free version gives you all of the same tools, as long as you’re fine with exporting to MPEG-4 at 720p.
If VLC can’t play the file you want to watch, there’s a good chance it can’t be played. This app is so good at it’s job that it’s one of the first installs you see on many Windows machines. The interface can feel cluttered or outdated, but you won’t be disappointed by the functionality.
The default video editor for the GNOME desktop is simple by design. It plays any media formats supported by GStreamer. The options aren’t the most thorough, but it does a great job of staying out of the way so you can focus on what you’re watching.
Vocal is a podcast client developed for Elementary OS. That means it comes with all the simplicity and style common to that distro’s apps. The software is in an early stage, but this is one of the more exciting podcast-related developments Linux has seen since Miro, which hasn’t seen an update in three years.
Rhythmbox is a classic. If you’ve used iTunes, you know how to navigate your way around this one-stop-shop of a music player. Access your library, listen to podcasts, and download new music from Creative Commons online stores. The app hasn’t changed much in the past decade, but it consistently gets the job done.
While Rhythmbox looks out of place on a default GNOME desktop, Lollypop feels right at home. It takes design cues from the simple GNOME Music player, but it doesn’t skimp on features — showing that following GNOME guidelines doesn’t require an app to be basic.
Amarok is the juggernaut of the KDE music scene. It also manages to pack the same features of Rhythmbox (and more) without looking like an iTunes clone. You can thoroughly tweak the interface and add plugins to make Amarok fit your tastes. If I could only recommend one music app on the Linux desktop, this would be it.
Clementine takes its inspiration from the Amarok of old. In the many years since its debut, the app has grown into is own. These days you can stream music from a number of online sources and control the player using the Clementine Android app.
Not only is digiKam the best photo management application available for Linux, you could argue that it’s the best option on any desktop operating system, period. If you’re a professional photographer looking to switch to Linux, this is the place to start. DigiKam will import RAW files, manage metadata, apply tags, create labels, and turn your terabytes of photos into something manageable. All the while, it’s simple of enough for casual users to embrace, too.
Gwenview is the default image viewer on a KDE Plasma desktop, but it also makes for a great photo manager. You can browser folders and make simple edits to files without having to install any extra software. Thanks to the wide range of plugins, that’s hardly the limit to what you can do. Gwenview is compelling enough that you may want to use it even if you’re not a fan of KDE.
Like Gwenview, gThumb is an image viewer that can double as a photo manager. It also happens to be the most feature-rich option that looks at home on the GNOME desktop. It offers an ideal blend of functionality and simplicity that make it great for casual use, but it’s probably not the kind of software you’d want to build a business with.
Shotwell is the most straightforward photo manager for GTK-based desktop environments. It imports your photos from a camera, gives you a number of ways to group them, can apply tags, open RAW files, and make edits. It loads more quickly than digiKam and provides much of the same core functionality.
GNOME’s default text editor is one of the most feature-packed apps of its kind. It’s also a great way to type up basic notes. However you want to use it, it gets our recommendation.
Kate is the default text editor for the KDE desktop environment, and it’s no slouch either. Since this is KDE we’re talking about, much of the advanced functionality is easy to find in the many application menus. Plus you can tweak the interface until your heart’s content.
Not all Linux applications are open source, and Sublime Text is one example. This proprietary text editor is cross-platform, having gained plenty of users on Windows and macOS. Distraction-free writing, the ability to edit two files side by side, and an expansive set of shortcuts all make the Linux version as compelling as those on other operating systems. Plus there’s a large pool of community-supported plug-ins that can make the experience your own.
Eclipse is the go-to IDE on Linux, but it’s widely used on other operating systems too. It has a large community and plenty of plugins. As a result, there’s a good chance that Eclipse has the features you need.
Atom is a text editor developed by GitHub. The goal was to design a hackable text editor for the 21st century. People have developed so many plugins that Atom makes for a great development tool. You can even use it as an IDE.
Geany is neither a text editor nor a full-blown IDE. It’s a code editor. You can compile and run software, view a list of defined functions in the current file, and more.
Despite GNOME’s focus on simplicity, the desktop is very customizable. With the right combination of extensions and a few extra apps, you can change many aspects of your computer’s interface. GNOME Tweak Tool is one of those extra apps. Want to change fonts or toggle the extensions you’ve installed? This is the place to be.
Unity Tweak Tool is a similar app, but it’s designed with Ubuntu’s Unity interface in mind. The core concept is the same. Download this app to edit virtual desktops, adjust animations, and tweak other aspects that Ubuntu doesn’t let you do by default.
Linux doesn’t need the kind of regular system maintenance that Windows requires, but there are times when we might want to give parts of our machines a powerwash. BleachBit can do that. This tool securely deletes files and “cleans” a large list of applications.
Is That All?
Hardly! There are plenty more apps where that came from. Linux has great options for handling finances, chatting over IRC, tapping into your creative side, and so much more! These days, you can even turn a Linux PC into a decent gaming machine filled with big budget AAA titles and open source freebies alike.
We could add many apps to this list, and we intend to do so in the future. Until then, why don’t you shout out your favorites in the comments below?
Original article written by Danny Stieben