Make Your Linux Desktop More Productive


This article was too good for a summary. Just read it straight up ~ Voltaire

“Apple has convinced millions that they can make the switch from
Windows to OS X, but those curious about Linux have to see for
themselves if they can work or play on a free desktop. The short answer
is that, for most halfway tech-savvy people who aren’t hardcore gamers,
yes, you can. There are positively addictive productivity apps
available for Linux, along with tools to make switching between Linux
and other systems easy, or just running Windows programs themselves if
you need to. Today we’re detailing a Linux desktop that helps you move
quickly, work with Windows, and just get things done; read on for a few
suggestions on setting it up.

Setting up your system

you’re dual-booting with Windows, there’s no reason to build a wall
between the two systems. Most modern Linux distributions can read and
write to hard drive spaces created for Windows, free Windows apps can
grab files from Linux, and many free programs can even share
configuration settings. See our guide to using a single data store when dual-booting.

Even if you’re devoting your whole hard drive to Linux, you don’t have to leave Windows behind. Free virtualization software VirtualBox
is a fairly user-friendly solution to running Windows inside Linux.
I’ve found that it works great with most flavors of XP, but, as you
might imagine, has a few problems with the “home” versions of Vista,
and requires a swift system to not occasionally lag a bit. One nice
compromise to needing just that one must-have Windows app for work is running it seamlessly in Linux.
On my own system, VirtualBox is the solution for Office 2007 apps and,
when I need it, iTunes (without USB/iPod functionality, unfortunately).

Some apps, however, can run without building whole virtualization machines. The WINE
project works to create a framework that can run many useful Windows
apps, including a good number of games, Adobe Photoshop, and the
“viewer” apps that let you read and print Office documents. These days,
they’ve even got a working version of Google’s Chrome browser. Check out our guide to installing and using WINE for help getting started.

Productivity tools

Clever hackers have not only copied some of the coolest tools
available for Windows and Mac systems, they’ve extended them to work
with other parts of the desktop in some seriously cool ways. Check out
a few of our favorites:

Application launchers

GNOME Do: It’s in the same field of Alt+Spacebar launchers as Windows’ Launchy, and strongly styled on OS X’s Quicksilver,
but GNOME Do has grown into its own kind of productivity tool. Plug-in
designers have taken full advantage of webapps’ APIs, giving you the
ability to quickly compose new email messages (in a local client or in
your webmail), search for files or folders, add calendar events, and
switch music tracks when a stinker comes up in shuffle. Oh, and it also
finds applications super-quickly as you type, making desktop icons seem
kind of, well, quaint. Here are installation instructions that should work for most Linux systems.

Launchy: If you’re a devoted user of our readers’ favorite application launcher, you’re in luck. Launchy recently debuted its Linux port, and it works just like Windows. With a few changes to accommodate Linux’s file system, many of the tweaks detailed by our own devoted Launchy user, Adam, will work just as well.

Dock organizer

Avant Window Navigator: A lot of people prefer OS
X’s dock to the cluttered taskbars of Windows, and while most
GNOME-based distros come with a top and bottom bar, it only takes a few
clicks to ditch them. Like GNOME Do, the Avant Window Navigator (AWN)
dock has a big collection of useful applets, including simple to-do
lists or
widgets, email and RSS checkers, a Stacks-style folder launcher, and,
of course, shortcuts to your most frequently launched apps. You can
style the bar however you’d like, including a near-exact copy of the OS X dock. The AWN project’s wiki has a installation guide that puts the most up-to-date version of the dock and its many applets into most popular distributions.

This dock follows the same extensible template as AWN, but many prefer
its easier-to-tweak configuration and slick graphical effects to the
somewhat buggier AWN. The project’s download page
has compilable source and Debian-based installation packages, but most
Linux users will want to install from their system’s own installer.

Productivity tools

CheckGmail: Most ambient mail notifiers serve only
to draw you into a browser or email client by throwing subject lines
and senders at you. CheckGmail,
on the other hand, serves as its own mini-reader, letting you read,
archive, or delete messages within a small white pane, and using your
Gmail account’s RSS feed for minimum bandwidth use. Works great with
Google Apps mail as well, and it’s totally customizable in appearance
and timing.

Timer Applet:
Available in most Linux systems’ repositories, this unobtrusive applet
works great for those who like to work in timed bursts. Start the timer
as either a running clock or set it to alert you at a custom interval
of time. For those who like to track their time across multiple tasks,
whether for personal tracking or client billing, the Hamster tracker has a similar drop-down interface for keeping yourself on-schedule.

Super-charged GEdit: Lots of Mac users—especially
coders and technical writers—swear by their TextMate, a
context-coloring, smart-functioning text editor. The built-in text
editor in GNOME-based systems, GEdit, can gain a few super powers of
its own, as detailed by the New Linux User blog.
Since it’s tightly integrated into the desktop already, it makes GEdit
into a right-click power tool. KDE users can also add highlighting to
the system default Kate.

Automated backups

“Cloud” solutions: Web-based backup is all the rage lately, and Linux hasn’t been left in the dust. Dropbox,
recently opened to public beta, features a nifty client that integrates
into the GNOME taskbar and automates back-ups from a chosen folder. SpiderOak
offers a similar 2GB of space, with a more GUI-focused client. And if
you’re mostly a word-processing or spreadsheet user with a hankering to
do some tweaking, you can automatically back up to Google Docs, or install an OpenOffice extension to edit and synchronize documents between the open-source office suite and Google’s online offering.

Those are just one editor’s recommendations for making Linux a
friendly, secure, work-able environment. Let’s hear from those already
rocking the open-source system what tools and tweaks are indispensable
to getting work done.”

Posted on September 19, 2008, in News. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for these tips. I am waiting for the final release 64-bit version of Linux Mint 7. I intend to use VMware, if I can get it running.

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