Introduction (method for choosing programs)
When coming up with this list of programs I use regularly under under Xubuntu I felt I had to set some criteria. Any program in this list had to be a program I use regularly outside of work. I use quite a few more programs that run under Xubuntu when I’m at work. While there’s some crossover between what I use at work and home, this list consists of programs I use on a regular basis at home.
I also excluded terminal commands from this list. Of course I use commands like apt, dpkg, cp, mv, etc., on a regular basis outside of work. If I included these the list of programs I use regularly would be exceedingly long, and boring. I also didn’t include games in this list, because I feel that should be its own list.
Programs need not be in the apt repositories. A couple of programs on this list are AppImages, and there’s some snaps on the list as well, along with one from PPA.
These programs are listed by a combination of usage and how much I like a program. The order of this list shifts a bit based on usage and how much I like a program. The #1 program isn’t necessarily my favourite program, but it is my most used program. Similarly, I probably use my #5 program less than my #8 program, but #5 could be #1 based on how much I appreciate it.
Without further ado, here’s the list:
#22 – VLC – Video Lan Client
VLC, or Video Lan Client, is a lot more than just an excellent video playback client. VLC can stream video from various sources, save streamed video, record video, play difficult formats, import video streams from capture devices, and convert between different formats. And these features don’t really even begin to cover how much VLC can actually do.
VLC is not normally installed in Xubuntu after a fresh installation, but it is in both the apt repository and available as a snap. In Xubuntu 22.10 (kinetic kudu) the snap is slightly newer than the apt package, though this difference might be much larger in older versions.
From time to time we run into machines at the Computer Recycling Project that crash when VLC loads a DVD. Normally, we set the apt package of vlc to be the default video playback program, but for the odd machine that has this issue we’ve found the snap works without issue.
VLC might have ranked higher on this list a year ago, but I’ve been using another program to playback video with a lot more frequency at home. That program is higher on this list.
#21 – Xfburn
Xfburn is the default CD/DVD burning program in Xubuntu. I used to install k3b on every computer because it looks a bit more like Nero Burning ROM, a program for burning media under Windows, but I’ve come to love xfburn for its simplicity.
There are only 4 buttons on the main interfaces of xfburn: Burn image, New data composition, Blank disk, and Audio CD. Each of the buttons behave as you’d expect. Burn image lets you burn ISO files, like the Xubuntu ISO download, to DVD. New data composition opens a disc for data writing, like a backup of files copied to the folder/disc. Blank disk attempts to blank rewriteable discs. Note: Not all discs are rewritable discs, this portion only works with discs that are rewritable. If you need to purge what’s on a DVD-RW, this is the tool to do the job. And the last option, Audio CD, lets you drag audio files to the disc that get converted to a format to be used as an audio CD. Obviously, a CD is needed for this as it’s the audio CD format.
Xfburn is simple, but it does everything I need it to.
#20 – Cura
A couple of years ago this program would have never made it to this list. Now that I have a 3D printer I use cura quite a bit to slice (prepare) images for the printer.
Other programs exist in the snapcraft repository that can do 3D slicing, but I’ve stuck with Cura because it was the first program I saw recommended for my 3D printer, and it’s worked well for me. Initially, I used the apt package, but lately I’ve been using the newer snap package.
#19 – Catfish
Catfish is a terrible name for a very useful file search program. Catfish is pre-installed in Xubuntu as part of the XFCE desktop environment. Simply type part of what you’re searching for in the search field and let catfish sort through the files. Full pathnames to any found files are printed below the search. In the image above I went looking for all files with xcf (the default GIMP image format). Results can be filtered a number of ways.
A quick single page doc on Catfish by bluesabre can be found here: https://docs.xfce.org/apps/catfish/usage
#18 – Htop
Htop is a command line process explorer with more features than top. Unlike top, htop isn’t installed in Xubuntu by default, but it is available in the software repositories.
I like that processes can be listed and compressed into trees, and that processes can be easily killed within htop. Htop isn’t as fancy as some of the process explorers, but it’s been what I’ve been using for a couple of years. I use htop quite a bit at work because I’m often working with low end hardware (Intel Atom processors and the like), and it’s nice to see which processes are hogging resources.
I use it a fair bit at home too when I notice any kind of a slow down. It’s in the #18 position as a combination of like and usage. I don’t use it nearly as much at home, but I’m pretty fond of htop.
#17 – Balena Etcher
In the past year I’ve used Balena Etcher to make a lot of bootable Linux USB keys from ISO images both at work and home. I’ve used a variety of tools to make bootable USB keys in the past, but Balena Etcher’s simplicity makes this my go to application for creating USB keys.
Balena Etcher isn’t in the apt repositories, and it doesn’t appear in the snap store. I use the AppImage, available for download from the Balena Etcher web site. Don’t forget to set the file to “execute” permission. Either right click on the file, bring up the properties, choose the permissions tab and click Allow this file to run as a program, or run chmod ugo+x <filename>. Since the <filename> changes from version to version you’ll have to insert the proper filename where I have <filename>. For example:
chmod ugo+x balenaEtcher-1.14.3-x64.AppImage
#16 – Discord
Discord seemed like a big deal when I first started using it. I even set up a Discord channel for the Computer Recycling Project, but after using it for a bit, I really felt something like a web forum would be a better application for what I had in mind.
I still use Discord both at home and work to discuss Retro computing and Linux topics with others, but I dropped a few channels I’d subscribed to before. Basically, there are just too many mediums for chat, so having lots of Discord channels just ends up being a time waster. I’ve limited myself to participating in a few groups on Discord.
#15 – mpv
It’s difficult to tell from the screenshot above, but mpv is a media player for the command line. The main reason I love mpv, more than any other playback client, is the fact that is has wonderful markers at the bottom of video making it simple to separate chapters.
Where mpv has become particularly useful to me has to do with DVDs that are not made in a friendly fashion. An example is helpful here. Awhile back I picked up a boxed DVD set of “Petticoat Junction” that contained several episodes from the show. Normally, when manufacturers make a DVD for a television show, each episode is divided into different tracks. The boxed DVD set I bought for Petticoat Junction didn’t do that, all episodes were recorded together as one long track. Mpv, somehow, seems to be able to see where each of these episodes are divided, even though the track is one long track.
Prior to discovering mpv I used to use vidcutter to slice tracks. Vidcutter isn’t bad, but it tends to crash and isn’t quite as quick scrubbing through video as mpv. To be clear, mpv cannot slice tracks, but it gives you a really good sense of the time where the track should be cut. I use another program further up on this list, to slice my DVDs when this happens (which is very rarely, but manufacturers sometimes do this).
#14 – OBS, Open Broadcaster Software
Open Broadcaster Software, more commonly known as OBS, is the program to use for streaming video to Twitch. It’s also excellent for just recording your desktop, or mixing live video from a variety of different sources. I use OBS to record my desktop, voice, any web cams, when making videos.
OBS should really be higher on this list for the raw amount of features, stability, and usefulness, but for now, I actually use the rest of the software on this list much more often. OBS has a bit of a learning curve, but it can do amazing things. If you think you want to do videos for different platforms, OBS is going to be one of the more useful tools in your toolbox.
#13 – Mousepad
Mousepad is another program that’s a part of Xubuntu and the XFCE desktop. While there are text editors with a lot more features, mousepad is simple, can highlight code, and is easy to use. I probably use the command line vi text editor even more than Mousepad, but I said I wasn’t going to include tools that are a part of every Linux system (and generally, vi is).
Mousepad can display line numbers, highlight the line of code you’re currently working on, adjust tabs to the amount of space needed, and colour code to dozens of programming, scripting, and scientific languages. It’s not a swiss-army knife of code editors, it doesn’t do code completion (not that I know of at least), but since it’s included with Xubuntu, and it’s very lightweight I use it. Mousepad is essentially the notepad of Xubuntu.
#12 – Kdenlive
I probably use Kdenlive slightly less than Mousepad, at least for now, but I cannot overstate how much I like Kdenlive as a video editor. I used to feel it was a bit complex, compared to Openshot, but I found it more stable (stability is a complaint many have against kdenlive, but this isn’t my experience) especially when dealing with larger files.
I used to use the apt version of Kdenlive, but lately I’ve been using the AppImage located here: https://www.appimagehub.com/p/1222941
Quite a few people I watch on Youtube have switched away from Kdenlive to Davinci Resolve. While Davinci Resolve does appear to be more professional grade, it also has a reputation for being difficult to install due to fussy hardware requirements.
I don’t work with 4k video, which I think is a source of angst when dealing with Kdenlive. As a video editor I like kdenlive a lot. Kdenlive makes chopping up video easy, and it’s even easier once you get to know the kdenlive hot keys. Kdenlive would actually be a bit higher on this list were it not for the fact that I haven’t made as many videos as I’d like to.
#11 – Inkscape
In the past Inkscape might have actually ranked within the top 5 as I used to use Inkscape almost every single day for flyers, laying out design ideas, and mixing vector and bitmap graphics. Inkscape is a vector graphics editor, but it can also combine vector and bitmap graphics. I’ve used Inkscape to design documents for the Computer Recycling Project pretty much since I started working for the project back in 2005.
I also used to use Inkscape to draw anime characters, and vector artwork. In fact, I designed the logo for the Computer Recycling Project, using Inkscape. The logo I presented to our directors was one of several logos I made for the project using Inkscape. I thought it might be the one chosen, despite being a bit less polished, because of its simplicity.
Back in 2005, 2006, Inkscape wasn’t the beast of a vector editor it is today, but it was still pretty full featured. I still have some screenshots lying around of flyers I created for a Christmas sale featuring Pentium II computers for sale. I use Inkscape a bit less at home these days, but when I need to do some print or vector artwork, it’s still my #1 program.
#10 – LibreOffice Calc
LibreOffice Calc, and spreadsheets in general, aren’t as exciting as game software, but I use LibreOffice Calc a lot at both home and work. Whenever I’m thinking about a hardware purchase I fire up LibreOffice Calc, enter all my choices into different fields, sort, and decide. I also frequently use LibreOffice Calc at work to inventory groups of items, like these Macintosh computers (screenshot above) we were going to make a push on refurbishing.
#9 – LibreOffice Writer
It seems quite fitting that the #10 entry on this list is LibreOffice Writer. I use LibreOffice Writer for any print or PDF documents that need to be created. LibreOffice Writer is powerful enough to be used to write a book (the book I wrote back in 2013 was written using the pre-cursor to LibreOffice, OpenOffice, which is now a separate suite).
What I find LibreOffice Writer particularly handy for is cutting and pasting long documents from web pages that are a bit difficult to print as-is. LibreOffice Writer seems to do a fantastic job with formatting content from the web. The same holds true for LibreOffice Calc. In fact I’ve been able to get some of our other staff at work using LibreOffice Writer when they’ve had issues cutting and pasting content into that other behemoth, MS Word.
While some people don’t like the button layout, compared to the tabbed layout of MS Office, the entire LibreOffice suite can be adjusted to appear like MS Office. Honestly, I prefer the layout of the LibreOffice suite, and feel the ribbon of that other suite, to be a waste of vertical space that I could better use for writing.
If you just need a program to write a book LibreOffice Writer is a bit overkill, but in a good way. I use LibreOffice Writer with such frequency that it deserves the #9 spot on this list.
#8 – Midnight Commander
Oddly enough, back in the 1980s and 1990s I never used Norton Commander, a DOS-product that Midnight Commander gets its inspiration from. Midnight Commander, or simply mc, is a program that runs on the command line, or in a terminal. It’s a semi-graphical program for managing files and directories.
Midnight Commander has a learning curve, it’s not obvious what keys do what, and my initial guesses were met with some frustration. But when I find myself needing to move a lot of files and directories while SSH’ed into a remote computer I often use mc to tag and move files and directories.
I also prefer to use mc for simple tasks, such as copying files over to USB key. Midnight Commander gives a better sense of each file, the file sizes, and speed a bunch of files are being copied over, when compared to just dragging and dropping files on to another medium graphically.
As I understand it, mc can also be used for remote work within the user interface, but it’s not something I do. I use Midnight Commander so frequently that it takes the #8 spot on this list.
#7 – FileZilla
Several years ago FileZilla might have been a lot lower on this list, not even cracking the top 15, but ever since I started re-ripping my physical media collection, FileZilla has become indispensable. I used to be a big fan of gftp, but that program seems to have fallen in popularity. I can’t remember exactly when I stopped using gftp in favour of FileZilla, or why, but I really haven’t looked at gftp in a long time.
FileZilla has a bit of a janky user interface. It feels like it’s a bit of a patchwork, with different adjustable elements everywhere. But for simple secure copy (scp/ssh) to our media centre it’s been a great program.
By default FileZilla only transfers a couple of files at once. I’ve changed this behaviour to allow me to transfer 10 files simultaneously. This doesn’t mean you can only transfer 10 files, but that the 10 files all attempt to transfer over the network at the same time.
When I back up my physical media, I often do it in batches. I’ll back up a bunch of DVDs and Blu-rays that I just bought, then transfer those, plus the extras from the media, to our KODI media centre in the living room. FileZilla, despite it’s janky user interface, just seems to work well for that purpose.
#6 – Handbrake
For the longest time Handbrake was my complete Swiss army knife for ripping and compressing all my physical media. Only in the past few years has it been supplanted by the #5 program on this list, and more due to my love for that program, than the lack of utility of Handbrake.
Handbrake is extremely capable. I’ve use handbrake to rip my DVDs and encode them to various video formats in one swoop. This is about the simplest use of handbrake I can think of. Handbrake can be used to convert video files from one format to another, and it has a large amount of presets for different resolutions, containers, and codecs.
When I decided to re-rip all my media, one of the things I decided to do was embed all the language subtitles each DVD/Blu-ray supported into the resulting mkv file (I use mkv rather than the mp4 format Handbrake uses by default – that story for a different day). Lately, I’ve also been including multiple spoken languages in the file with the thought it might come in handy learning another language in the future. By default Handbrake will rip the first language on the disc. Adding more spoken languages and subtitles are options within Handbrake.
While I don’t use Handbrake at all at work, it could be used to convert from one video format to another. This feature really isn’t necessary at work since the bit of video work I do there I do with Kdenlive and OBS, and both programs save to Matroska containers (mkv).
#5 – MakeMKV
MakeMKV is possibly my favourite program on this list. MakeMKV doesn’t have the wealth of options that Handbrake does, but it’s always on the cutting edge for backing up Blu-ray discs, something a lot of other programs cannot do, or cannot do alone. In fact, with a modified firmware, I’ve been able to rip 4K Blu-ray discs with my LG Blu-ray drive (WH16NS40 upgraded to the WH16NS60 firmware listed on the MakeMKV web site).
The installation of MakeMKV on Xubuntu isn’t as simple as most other programs on this list, but if you follow the instructions listed on the MakeMKV forum post it’s pretty straightforward.
Although it’s not required to use MakeMKV (you just have to refresh the install after a period) I registered MakeMKV so I don’t have to renew the key all the time. At $75USD, it’s a bit on the pricey side, especially for something that you can use for free. To me it’s worth not having to deal with the key renewal, and the software is constantly being updated to deal with new Blu-ray technology.
Updates involve the same process for installation, but if you’ve registered and activated MakeMKV, you won’t have to enter your key again.
Even more so than Handbrake, I really have no reason to use MakeMKV at work other than to demonstrate what MakeMKV can do.
Files generated with MakeMKV are huge (unlike Handbrake, which compresses as it rips). Part of the reason for the file size has to do with the fact that the (.mkv) files also contain all the languages and any subtitles the media supports. As far as I understand, MakeMKV doesn’t do any compression.
My process for backing up my physical media involves extracting the media first using MakeMKV (whether it’s a DVD or Blu-ray disc), then using Handbrake to choose what audio languages, and subtitles I include in a final compressed file. Handbrake can batch files. So I normally extract a bunch of video first using MakeMKV, then I compress it with Handbrake.
#4 – Steam
What would a top software list be without entertainment. I mentioned at the start of this article that it would be difficult to add games to this list since it would make the list pretty long. I don’t have an enormous collection of games on Steam, but it is over 150.
I’m not a huge fan of streaming movie/tv services, so it’s a bit odd that I like Steam. It is more convenient than keeping a collection of physical games. My collection of other physical media is large enough to add hundreds of games to the space.
Games frequently go on sale on Steam for some ridiculous prices. One thing I like about Steam is that it makes it easy for me to play games on different systems, whether it’s my laptop, desktop, or a machine at work to show someone a particular game.
It’s true, not all games designed for Microsoft Windows will run on Xubuntu, but Steam’s Proton technology has gotten so good that a very large number of games made exclusively for Windows will run on Steam in Xubuntu with a bit of setup (proton).
I tend to buy games that have a Linux-native version, as indicated by the SteamOS (which is a Linux distribution) icon in the listing of the game. You don’t need SteamOS to play Steam games, just install the Steam client, create an account, and start downloading and playing games.
Steam boasts an impressive number of free games. And while the number of games with Linux-native support is a lot smaller than Windows-only games, there are some really decent Linux-native titles (Rise of the Tomb Raider and Borderlands 2 come to mind).
While you won’t find me playing games at work, I do have Steam installed on a machine at work for things like screenshots and the odd occasion when someone asks about playing games on Steam. In a later post I’ll describe how to set up Proton on Steam to play Windows-only games through Xubuntu.
#3 – GIMP
For the amount I use GIMP, GIMP could easily be the #1 program on this list. GIMP is a bitmap manipulation program. I’ve used GIMP at work, since the first day I started working for the Computer Recycling Project. If you need to resize or manipulate an image GIMP gives you granular tools and controls over your images.
A recent video claiming GIMP was dead due to AI technology ignores the fact that a lot of generative art looks just like that, there’s something off about those images, and a lot of that art has the same sort of look/feel.
GIMP is far from perfect, but it has a wealth of features and can be expanded and extended. Just for this article alone I’ve used GIMP to convert all the images to webp format. Dozens of videos exist on using GIMP, so learning GIMP isn’t as difficult as it used to be back in 2001. GIMP continues to evolve. There are always naysayers for every program out there. Use what works for you.
#2 – Terminal
I said I wouldn’t include Linux commands in my list, but the terminal is perhaps my most used program. I’m constantly opening terminal sessions to type commands because I’ve come to find it’s actually MUCH, MUCH easier than mousing to the menu, opening another menu, and clicking on an icon, or even moving the mouse and clicking on an icon.
As I get older, I get a bit lazier, and arthritis has kicked in a bit. I also have some serious carpal tunnel from bad mouse gaming habits. The less I have to mouse around the screen the better.
In Xubuntu I can open a terminal session simply by holding down the Windows key (called the Super key in Xubuntu) and pressing the T key. With that terminal in focus I can use CTRL + SHIFT and the + key to make the window and text larger. I can use that combination several times to continue to scale the window and text. If I don’t like how big the window and text have become I can use CTRL and the – key to shrink the terminal window (strangely the SHIFT key isn’t needed to make it smaller, it’s a bit of a consistency issue, but it works).
Using certain keystrokes in the terminal, like TAB for filename/programname completion, really boost productivity. On my system, for example, I can fir into a terminal and press the TAB key to complete the firefox command, which when I press enter launches a new firefox browser session. If I just type fi and hit the TAB key it appears to do nothing, but if I hit TAB a second time 15 different programs are listed. Typing a further character after the fi and tab advances the command. For example, if I typed x after the fi, fix, and pressed the TAB key the command fixparts appears in my terminal. TAB completion is just one awesome command line trick.
Another great trick is the up arrow to scroll through the history of commands, beginning with the previous command and going back in time.
Yet another trick is to use double exclamation marks to represent the previous command. For example: If you previously typed: apt update, but you forgot to type sudo (super user do), you could type: sudo !!. Provided you typed apt update before, the sudo !! would result in the same result as typing sudo apt update. In other words, just because you made a mistake you don’t have to type things all over again.
Combining these tricks and more can make you really productive in a terminal. Very large books have been written about the command line, The terminal program gives access to the command line conveniently within the Xubuntu/XFCE desktop environment.
If you don’t like the colours the terminal displays, it can be customized. The opacity of terminals can be customized so you have text on top of a see-through terminal. Fonts can be made larger or smaller either through the user interface, or the hot keys I mentioned earlier.
The terminal gets slagged by people, but once you get a bit used to it, it really is a fantastic program that can make you a lot more productive.
#1 – Firefox (oh, and KODI media centre)
Firefox is my #1 used program both at work and home. Whether it’s entertainment, research, or working on this web site, Firefox is the browser I’ve used for ages.
While some people prefer Google Chrome, I try to stay away from the Google ecosystem. I’m already indentured to Google through Gmail and Google Docs, I don’t need yet another program that reports back to Google.
But the real reason I’ve continued to use Firefox all these years probably has to do with the fact that I was an early Netscape adopter, early enough to have paid for Netscape before it became free. Firefox’s roots are derived from Netscape Navigator.
While some people find Firefox slow, I find the same with other browsers, and having used Firefox across a great number of systems I’m used to how it behaves.
Firefox is the default browser in Xubuntu and can be launched by holding down the Windows/Super key and pressing W (think web browser). If you’ve installed another browser and set it to default, it will launch in place of Firefox.
While Firefox is now a snap in future versions of Xubuntu, the team are working on improving the loading time of the snap. An update was released not that long ago that improved the initial loading time for Firefox. I expect this will continue in the future.
Honourable Mention – KODI media centre (#1)
In creating this list a number of the programs listed here are part of my effort to organize my physical media in a way that’s convenient. While creating the list I completely forgot about the main program I use to access and organize my media collection, KODI.
KODI deserves several posts on its own. While many people use KODI in conjunction with sketchy bit-torrent sites, a use that has been pushed by a lot of people trying to profiteer off free software, it’s not a use I’ve ever been interested in. KODI is a great media organizer in its own respect, and lot of legitimate extensions can be used to make it even more entertaining.
This has been my list of 22 programs I regularly use under Xubuntu (23 really). This list could be a lot longer if I added software that I frequently use at work, but don’t use at home. I’ll leave that list for another day. I hope this brief overview of programs I regularly use has been interesting. When I buy a book, if I even get one useful tip, the book has been useful to me. I’m hoping this post has been useful for you.
As always, I’m available on Mastodon: @email@example.com.