14 Programs on my Xubuntu 20.04 Linux workstation

Steam running on Xubuntu 20.04

What follows is a list of software I've installed on my Xubuntu 20.04 workstation. These programs are not a part of the default Xubuntu Linux installation, but I believe they're useful programs for a wide range of end users.

1. Darktable

If you own a Digital SLR camera chances are you shoot in RAW mode. Darktable is a photography workflow program and RAW developer, it lets you manage your photographs in a database, view them through a light table, and enhance your RAW images with a slew of effects and options. Your original RAW photographs are never touched, instead Darktable creates a file that tracks the options applied to the image. Darktable has some really cool sorting options, letting you sort by star rating, tags, colour labels, and metadata. One of the handiest features of Darktable is the ability to automate repetitive tasks across a selection of images.

Darktable, a software lightable for photographs

Lately I haven't used Darktable much except as a way to import the RAW images from my Canon Rebel XTi into GIMP. Darktable acts as the intermediary because GIMP doesn't understand my XTi's RAW format. Several months ago I used Darktable quite a bit to add tags and process photographs. There's a number of good videos on Youtube describing how to use Darktable. If you're interested in photography Darktable is a pretty powerful program.

2. Discord

Chat programs have been around for ages. In fact back before the Internet was a big public thing people still loved to chat on multi-line bulletin board systems (BBS'). It shouldn't be a surprise that I have a chat program, Discord, installed on my system. While I don't use chat as much as I used to on bulletin boards and in the early days of the public Internet (IRC) I find Discord handy because of the particular groups on Discord.

Discord chat

I'm currently a member of a retro technology group, a group devoted to GameMaker Studio (a Windows game engine that can create Ubuntu binaries), and a group dedicated to archive.org. Discord supports private messaging, streaming, audio chat, text chat, emojis, channels, videos, images and more.

3. Filezilla

I know how to use SFTP/SSH, but I sometimes like to do things the lazy way. Filezilla is one of my lazy file transfer programs. I use Filezilla a lot to transfer files between my workstation and the KODI server I set up in our living room. Filezilla uses a left/right pane model to show the source and destination machines. Navigating Filezilla has a familiar feel since it mimics the Midnight Commander (also in this list further down) style of file management. I sometimes also use Filezilla just to rename files (usually before transfer).

Filezilla lets you transfer files between systems using SSH

4. GIMP

I believe GIMP is now installed in Xubuntu during the default installation, but I'm including it here since it's been my go to image editor for the past 15 years (and likely a bit longer). With Photoshop now a cloud application, GIMP is definitely worth a look since it's free and open source software you don't have to "rent" every month. GIMP is my go to image editor for just about everything.

GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program

5. Handbrake

Handbrake is a popular open source video transcoder, it can extract audio and video from a DVD and re-encode it into a number of different video file formats. If you plan on archiving Commercial DVDs using Handbrake you'll need to install additional software (a codec) to decrypt the DVD. On Xubuntu 20.04 this program is called libdvdread7. The version of libdvdread in the repositories of Ubuntu/Xubuntu 18.04 was libdvdread4.

Handbrake, video conversion and DVD extraction tool

To install libdvdread7 open a terminal and type:

sudo apt install libdvdread7

(Use libdvdread4 if you're using Ubuntu/Xubuntu 18.04). Once libdvdread7/4 is installed you'll need to follow the instructions after the installation, specifically:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvdread7

(Again for Ubuntu/Xubuntu 18.04 you'll need to substitute libdvdread4 for libdvdread7).

It's worth mentioning that even if you only plan on watching the DVDs on your Xubuntu/Ubuntu installation using VLC or Parole you'll need to install libdvdread or you'll get playback errors.

Handbrake has a simple-looking user interface, but under that simple-looking interface is a tonne of options. These days I no longer use the graphical version except to compress video for Youtube, but I used to find it particularly handy for ripping episodes of TV shows from my DVDs.

If you've installed Handbrake on Xubuntu/Ubuntu and run into errors when you try to rip your DVDs see my video on DVD Playback on Ubuntu derivatives.

For a good introduction to Handbrake check out the LinuxTechShow's video (which is ironically done on Windows) Rip Copy-Protected DVDs with Free Software for Windows 10, Mac OS X or Linux on Youtube.

6. Inkscape

Like Handbrake, Inkscape is a program I used to use a lot, but haven't spent a lot of time lately using. At one time Inkscape was the main program I used for designing flyers, covers for DVDs I made, and graphics for different projects. Inkscape is a vector graphics program similar to Adobe Illustrator, but focused on the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format (vs the ai - Adobe Illustrator, proprietary format).

Inscape, vector-based graphics creation program

Inkscape is a pretty powerful program and can be daunting if you've never used a vector graphics program before. If you want to lean Inkscape I'd encourage you to check out Logos by Nick and Davies Media Design on Youtube.

7. K3b

The default Xubuntu installtion includes a CD/DVD burning program called xfburn. Xfburn is very simple in appearance, but a bit limited compared to other CD/DVD burning options. k3b is a great CD/DVD burning program that looks a little bit like Nero, a popular CD/DVD burning program on other platforms.

k3b - CD and DVD burning program

I've used k3b for many years and it's like an old habit. Although installing k3b adds a bunch of KDE libraries (extra software that takes up space) I've always installed it because it's feature-rich and familiar.

8. Kdenlive

My go to video editor for many years has been OpenShot. It's only recently that I've been learning how to use Kdenlive as a video editor. If you want to mix audio, video, and images, both Kdenlive and OpenShot are good programs to try out.

Kdenlive, video editor for Linux

Which program you choose will probably depend on your level of comfort with the whole video editing process. For a good introduction to the pros and cons of each editor check out Geekoutdoors Openshot Vs Kdelive on Youtube. (Hint: Openshot if you're really new to video editing, Kdenlive for advanced editing).

9. MakeMKV

MakeMKV is what I currently use to back up my media. Unlike Handbrake, which compresses the resulting files, MakeMKV dumps the the audio and video in one big file. I started using MakeMKV a few years back because I found it faster than Handbrake, but the speed of ripping the media comes with a drawback - large/huge file sizes. Another drawback of MakeMKV compared to Handbrake is that MakeMKV is not in the software repositories. To install MakeMKV on Ubuntu/Xubuntu you'll need to follow the instructions on the MakeMKV forum page here: https://www.makemkv.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=224

MakeMKV is capable of extracting video and audio from Blu-ray and DVDs

Up until a couple of weeks ago my desktop workstation was the weakest computer in our apartment. Ripping media with Handbrake felt pretty slow sometimes because Handbrake rips and encodes video. MakeMKV sped up that process by just dumping the media to my workstation. I then used Filezilla to make an SSH connection to our KODI server in the living room and I transferred the uncompressed file to that system (which has much more space, so I could delete the file off my workstation). I then ran the command line version of Handbrake on a directory/folder full of uncompressed files to shrink those further. On my workstation this process would have taken ages, but on the i7-2600 in the living room the process was almost twice as quick.

Another reason to use MakeMKV over Handbrake is MakeMKV's ability to read Blu-ray discs. MakeMKV can be used as a go-between to play Blu-rays, or to back them up to a .mkv (Matroska Video) file. Although my workstation is now the most powerful system in the apartment (with a six core XEON E5-1650 CPU) I still use this method to back up and archive media. The difference is now I sometimes just encode the video (using handbrake-cli) in the background while I'm working on something else.

10. Midnight Commander

Midnight Commander is a Norton Commander-like file management tool that works in a terminal. I tend to use Midnight Commander when copying a lot of files from one directory to another because I find it faster and less prone to issues than drag and drop.

Midnight Commander is a Norton Commander-like program for Linux

Some people dislike anything related to the command line, but having used DOS (a text based system from the eighties) long before I ever used Windows I've always appreciated the speed of non-graphical systems. I think the best introduction to Midnight Commander is Johannes Niedermayr's video simply entitled Midnight Commander (Youtube link).

11. Rapid Photo Downloader

As the name suggests, Rapid Photo Downloader is a tool to download photographs quickly from your digital camera. Rapid Photo Downloader had no problem recognizing my 14 year old Canon Rebel XTi digital camera and pulling off photographs I store in Canon's version of RAW formatting. Photographs are downloaded and sorted into directories based on the date of the photograph.

Rapid Photo Downloader does what it sounds like it does

Rapid Photo Downloader can be used to rename photographs, and it has some limited automated features (such as downloading the moment a camera is connected, or when rapid-photo-downloader is installed). You can download Rapid Photo Downloader in the software centre or in a terminal by typing: sudo apt install rapid-photo-downloader.

12. Stacer

Stacer is a program I only recently discovered. Stacer gives a beautiful graphical overview of how system resources are being used. Stacer has some tools the do jobs similar to CCleaner on Windows.

Stacer - an information tool that can perform a number of system-related functions

Stacer can be used to clear package caches, crash reports, logs, the trash bin, check/start/stop services, see which processes are running and how much CPU and memory those processes are taking, uninstall installed software packages, see a short history of how all CPU cores/threads are being used, make changes to your networking host file, switch on and off software repositories, make appearance changes to the system, and show alerts when the CPU, RAM, or disk reach a certain percentage. Stacer appears to be in a fairly early stage of development, but already it looks very polished.

13. Steam

Steam bills itself as the "ultimate destination for playing, discussing, and creating games. It's a video game distribution service, much like a software centre that focuses primarily on games, though I used steam to buy Aseprite, a program for creating sprite graphics for games. Steam is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. For the longest time the games on Steam for Linux were fairly limited when compared to games on Steam for Windows, but recently Steam has added a feature to the Steam client (Proton) that does a pretty amazing job letting you run "Windows only" games on Linux. Proton isn't enabled by default, but if you search Youtube I'm sure you'll find videos on how to enable Proton for specific games. I'll write an article in the future on this topic.

Steam - a video game delivery system

I tend to not have a lot of time to play games, but some of the games I currently have installed via Steam are: 99Vidas, Badland: Game of the Year Edition, Borderlands 2, Bot Vice, Brutal Legend (love the music in this one), Darkest Dungeon (admittedly I haven't even played this one), Deponia, Half-Life 2, Pinstripe, Red Comrades 2, Sky Force Anniversary (love the graphics and music in this one), Soda Girls (you have to try it), Super Destronaut, and Zombie Defense ... to name a few (okay maybe a bit more than a few). I like Steam because I can go to a store like EB games and pick up a steam card for cash, then add that value to my steam account (this way you don't need a credit card to pay for games). I'll do a video or article on this process in the near future.

14. WinFF

The last program on my list of installed software us used for converting video and audio files to other formats. WinFF has both a Windows and Linux version. The Linux version of WinFF can be installed through the Software Centre, or by opening a terminal and typing: sudo apt install winff. Winff has a bunch of presets for converting to popular formats and devices (for example you could add an mp4 video and convert it to a format that's optimal for a PSP - PlayStation Portable).

WinFF - video conversion tool

WinFF looks simpler than Handbrake, but WinFF is also quite powerful. You can even create your own presets (Edit > Presets) or Import / Export those presets. If you want to convert a bunch of video using specific options, WinFF might be the tool you're looking for.

Summary

I've barely touched on a few of the tools I use on my Xubuntu 20.04 workstation. Many of these tools are worthy of several articles on their own. The idea of this article was simply to mention some of the tools I use to illustrate some of the things that are possible on a Xubuntu/Ubuntu system.