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Ubuntu Netbook: Must-Have Apps

That is a bit of a ridiculous title, since what one person “must have” is useless to someone else. The lack of a couple of apps was critical to my withdrawal from Ubuntu 8.04 when I first got my Dell Mini, and ended up with me going back to Windows XP But I was always a bit wistful about what might have been, and now there are some apps that I would recommend to any current Microsoft Windows user thinking about dual booting or completing migrating to Ubuntu.

As I have commented elsewhere, I would not encourage the average user to dabble with Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala.  It still seems a bit flakier, if faster, than the long term support (LTS) version 8.04.  But I would disagree with the common statement that desktop Linux is not ready for the business or the average user.  My own experience with Ubuntu and what I hear about Linux Mint is positive and I think the sort of people interested enough in trying Linux will have a good experience.

Crossover Linux

Here are the software apps that I use that I was glad to be able to put in my Ubuntu environment.  Well over 90% of the software I use is available now either natively for Ubuntu or will run under CrossOver Linux.  Considering how much free software I am able to leverage, this one application – which is a paid version of WINE and that enables you to run some software written for Microsoft Windows – means that I do not even have to worry about possible compatibility issues if I am sharing documents.  The reality is that I rarely share a document that is not in a PDF format or stored in an online, shared repository in which format does not really matter.

Web and E-mail

The Gnome Evolution e-mail client is nice but I have been using Mozilla’s Thunderbird recently.  It is available on Linux, and meets my needs for an IMAP capable e-mail client.  I check multiple Google Mail accounts and a few other e-mail accounts all through the single interface.  For those not familiar with IMAP, it enables you to access your e-mail remotely and manage it without downloading it.  That way, you can access it in multiple ways without worrying that you have left a copy in only one place.

Google Chrome was the other big thing.  I had long ago found Microsoft Internet Explorer to be too bloated, even though Version 8 has got a lot of promising features.  It remains quite weak when compared to Mozilla’s Firefox due to all the extensions you can add.  I was a lukewarm about Google Chrome because of its relatively small set of features, native, and lack of extensions.  Version 4 changes everything, though, and, even though it is in beta on Linux, it is as stable as the Windows version so far.  More importantly, I can use my favorite extensions and get all the speed that Chrome offers.

Information Management

The bookmark sync built-in to Google Chrome is nice, because I can add a bookmark from Ubuntu, or on my dual-boot Windows PC, or at work, and the bookmark is available in the other two locations.  I also rely heavily on Dropbox for file synchronization.  When I save a file to my Dropbox folder, it is synchronized up to my online Dropbox account and then re-synchronized to my work PC.  When I boot up again in Windows XP, my laptop re-syncs from the Dropbox site so that the folder is the same in all three places.

If you are a Windows user and testing out Ubuntu 9.10, it will automatically scour your My Documents folder and import it into Ubuntu.  When I started Ubuntu for the first time, I already had a My Dropbox folder in Ubuntu, ready for when I added the utility.

Encryption

One of my long time utilities is Truecrypt, and I have used portable encrypted shares on flash drives and hard disks.  Partial disk encryption has worked better for me so far than full-disk, because I tend to need to make my content portable, not take the computer with me.

Word Processor, Office Suite

Ubuntu is usually pre-configured to install Open Office, which has a word processor, spreadsheet app, and presentation program.  These are good programs and you do not really need to have Microsoft’s Office Suite.  Having Microsoft Word can be comfortable for you but it is not really necessary, since you can save or print to the portable document format (PDF) and share documents that way.  Open Office will open Word documents and Word will open Open Office documents, so there are few barriers to using either one.

I installed my version of the Microsoft Office Suite 2007 because I wanted access to my favorite Microsoft app, OneNote.  I have tried Evernote, which is not available for my set up except as a bookmarklet for Google Chrome.  The Microsoft Office Suite 2007 suite installs cleanly using Codeweavers Crossover Linux.  I was also able to install the Save as PDF add-in for Microsoft Word.  If you are using Crossover Linux, select to install Unsupported Software and also select to install it in your XP bottle, even though it warns of likely failures.  The install goes through smoothly and looks just as it does in Microsoft Windows.

One frustration I had in Ubuntu 8.04 with Crossover Linux and Microsoft Office was that the Office apps would often take focus, so you might click on FILE > SAVE and as soon as the Save File As dialog appeared, the document you were working on would come to the front again.  This meant you could not type in your file name easily, without having to cycle back to the dialog repeatedly.  This appears to be fixed in Karmic Koala.

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