Aditya Nag
22 March 2005

This article was first published on

You may be thinking of switching to Linux. What’s holding you back? Is it that you are worried that you won’t be able to perform X task effectively? Maybe you think that you won’t be able to use Linux effectively because your favorite programs are not available. You might think that your carefully collected music collection will become unmanageable, or you won’t be able to watch DVD’s and other movies on your computer. Do you believe that MSN Messenger only works on Windows? Do you think that Bit-torrent is not possible? This article is meant for you!

In this article, we will focus on all the little programs that you are used to using in Windows, and their equivalents in Linux. People who have switched over often complain that they can’t find the proper movie player, or MP3 player that they like to use. Sometimes, this is so irritating that they switch right back, just because they couldn’t watch their favorite movies, or listen to their favorite songs. What they do not know is that there are many many alternatives available in Linux. Some of the programs are so much better than their Windows counterparts that you may wonder why you didn’t switch before.

We have categorized the most common tasks people do on their PC’s, and listed Open Source equivalents for all of them. This ought to help you quickly get up to speed on Linux. Links to all the programs are provided as well, so if you see something you might be interested in, just click on it.

  1. Internet Browsers: This is an easy one. Mozilla Firefox is an excellent replacement for Internet Explorer. Many people may already have used it on Windows. Firefox has many great features, such as tabbed browsing, a pop-up blocker and a series of extensions that make your browsing experience much more pleasurable. Opera is another good browser, and it is cross-platform as well. Opera is not free, but they do offer an ad-supported version. The Mozilla suite, distinct from Firefox is also available. Konqueror and Epiphany are two Linux only browsers that come with KDE and Gnome, respectively. We would recommend, however, that you use Firefox,

  2. MP3 players: So how do you listen to that vast collection of MP3’s that you have? Well, if you are a Winamp user, for any version before 3.0, then XMMS is the program for you. This Winamp lookalike works identically, and you can even use the exact same skin that you used for Winamp, for a completely seamless experience.

If you use iTunes, Windows Media Player or the like, then take a look at RhythmBox. This works with your iPod, and has all the Library management features you’d need.

AmaroKKaffeine and JuK are very good players too. They all have library management features, skinnable interfaces, and all manner of interesting tweaks.

We like all of them. XMMS is especially good for its small memory footprint. If your machine is “not exactly new”, then XMMS is a good choice. On the other hand, if you have all the bells and whistles, and want a snazzy looking player, try AmaroK or Kaffeine. JuK is great too. In the end it boils down to personal choice.

  1. Media Players: So you feel like watching James Stewart in that Hitchcock classic Vertigo? You have the DVD ( or DivX or XVID…), now what? Well there are many, many players available.

One of the best players, that plays almost all formats without much tweaking, is the Video Lan Client, or VLC player. It has support for most formats, DVD menus, Subtitles, and multi-language DVD’s.

Other good players are Xine and Mplayer. Both of these let you watch DVD’s and other file formats with ease. VLC, Xine and Mplayer are all skinnable, so you can make them look great.

The default player on many distros is Totem. This may require you to download codecs before it is able to play some formats, but is otherwise a good player, with a clean interface. The site was down when I tried, but since it comes installed by default, you probably already have it. Kaffeine plays video files as well.

There are many more players out there, but these are the most common. Any one, or a combination of these will satisfy your video needs.

You may have to download a library called libdvdcss on some distros before you can watch DVD’s. Most distros don’t bundle this due to legal restrictions, but it’s very easy to find and install. If you DVD isn’t playing, this is most often the cause.

  1. Instant Messaging: An instant messaging application is extremely important. You will be glad to know that there are many quality IM programs available for Linux.

Yahoo Messenger is natively available for Linux. If you use MSN, then you can try aMSN, which is an MSN clone. Gaim is a program that lets you log into Yahoo, MSN, AOL, ICQ and a few more to boot! You can log into all these using the same program, which makes it easy for you to handle your contacts. Heavy MSN users may prefer aMSN, but we suggest you try out Gaim.

  1. Email Clients: For those who use Outlook, Linux has a wonderful program called Evolution. This is installed by default on most distros. Evolution is a robust Email, Calender and Contact application which you will find very easy to use. Newer versions support connecting to Microsoft Exchange Servers as well. Other good alternatives are Thunderbird, from the Moziila foundation, and Kontact. Thunderbird is more of a pure email client, with some address book functionality. It does not have any scheduling features. Kontact on the other hand is a fully featured Personal Information Management Suite, which includes Mail, Contacts, Calender and Sync. And yes, both Evolution and Kontact will sync with your PalmOS based devices.

  2. CD/DVD- Burning Software: Nero has recently released a Linux version of their popular software, Nero Burning ROM. This is free for those who have registered versions of Nero. If you have been using Nero under Windows, and have a registered version, then you could try it out. Otherwise, K3b is a fully featured CD/DVD burning program. The interface is similar to Nero, and it has similar functionality. In fact, it has some features which Nero lacks, such as MD5 checks on ISO images. In fact many people prefer K3B over Nero. Try both, and pick the one that you like better.

  3. Web design software: In today’s Internet era, it’s becoming very common for people to have a web-presence of some sort. You could have a small personal webpage, or a large website. In any case, unless you are a HTML guru, who codes in Notepad, you probably use a HTML editor of some sort. In Linux, the three best know editors are Bluefish, Screem and Nvu. Nvu is a WYSIWYG editor, while Bluefish and Screem are the standard code-preview-code editors. You could also use the WYSIWYG editor in And when you are done editing, you can upload your files with gFTP, a great FTP client.

  4. Miscellaneous utilities: There are many other programs, which do not fit into any of the catagories listed. The Gimp is a Photoshop replacement. It lacks some of the advanced features of Photoshop, but it is sufficient for most tasks. You can do advanced editing with it, but you will need to learn the program properly. There are many guides available on the net, and quite a few books too.

Scribus is a page setting program. It is mature and supports standard industry formats. If you do DTP work, you will probably want to use this.

Azureus is a great bit-torrent client. If you are interested in downloading files using the bit-torrent protocol, look no further.

X-chat is a useful IRC client. aMulexMule and Gnutella are some P2P programs.

Xsane is what you would use to scan in your photos, before you edit them with the Gimp.

Though this may seem like a fairly comprehensive list, it is really nothing much. The greatest thing about GNUI/Linux is the freedom to choose between many varied alternatives. This list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many great programs that find no mention in this list. Go out there and explore.

We hope that this article helps you move to Linux sooner than you’d anticipated!