We all know that Linux is about choice.
Everyone has the choice of what they use and how they use it, provided they have access to a tame hacker with suitable programming skills.
A consequence of this is that there's a huge range of software out there. If there's a popular favourite for a given task, you can bet your bottom dollar there'll be at least one alternative. You've only to look at the package selection options in most distro installers to see just how many choices you can make before you even start using your distribution.
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Over the next few pages we'll highlight some of the choices available to you for some of the most common desktop tasks. There's no 'best' software here, for the simple reason that it's all the best.
We all spend far too long watching rubbish on YouTube, so we might as well do it in style.
What makes Firefox so popular? Mainly because it 'just works'. There is rarely any need to change your browser identification to fool a site into letting you in. If you do, there is an extension to do this, which leads us into the other reason for Firefox's success: its plugins.
From blocking ads to displaying weather forecasts in the status bar, Firefox can be extended to make the web work for you just as you want.
Judged purely as a web browser, Konqueror falls a little short of the standards set by Firefox; on the other hand, its integration with the KDE desktop makes it a pleasure to use with other KDE applications, and the KIO slaves are marvellous.
KIO slaves enable Konqueror to handle more than the usual HTTP, HTTPS and FTP URL methods.
Konqueror can read man and info pages complete with hyperlinks, connect to Samba shares and printers, browse the contents of various types of archive, connect to CVS and Subversion repositories, access the contents of digital cameras and mobile phones, and it's a good file manager too.
Opera is free as in beer, but not as in speech. However, it caters well for Linux users with several packages to suit various distros. Opera is as good as Firefox in some areas and better in places. It can be fast, especially if you run it with the –nomail option, which disables the internal email client and halves the startup time.
You may object to Opera because even though it is available free of charge, it isn't open source, but it has plenty of features to make web browsing easier, and was the first browser to introduce mouse gestures.
Lynx, and its derivatives Links and Elinks, is a text-mode web browser.
Why, in this world of increasingly graphic content where everything other site uses Flash animations for the most trivial things, would anyone want to use a text-only browser?
The question itself gives one possible answer – a text browser shows just how much the basic information that makes up the web, the text, has become overloaded with bandwidthsapping eye candy. You wouldn't want to use this for YouTube, but for surfing for information in text form, it absolutely flies.
How you read your email makes a big difference – just ask those poor sods using Entourage.
Thunderbird is a good quality graphical email client that uses the GTK toolkit but is not tied to any particular desktop environment.
It has pretty much all the features you would expect to find in such a program: mailing list handling, encryption and digital signatures for outgoing and incoming mails and plenty of filtering options.