How to get new apps for your Linux netbook

Beginner's guide to finding and installing Linux programs

Pirut AbiWord

Word has reached our ears that some people have been buying Linux-powered netbooks, then taking them back to the shop because they can't install Windows software on them. Folly!

Not only are these people denying themselves an opportunity to use a fast, stable, virus-free operating system, they're also losing out on all the software that you can download and install for free, which if you bought an equivalent application for use on Windows would cost money that could be better spent on other things – beer, for example, or the electricity bill.

You'll find that the default software on offer in the Acer Aspire One is more than adequate for most tasks, but sometimes you want more functionality than the default application offers. Or maybe the type of software you're looking for is simply not there in the menus, or perhaps you'd just prefer to have an application you're already familiar with, rather than forcing yourself to learn the apps that Acer has chosen for you. Either way, here's how to get all the applications you could ever need, and many many more.

Install Gimp on your Linux netbook

Because of its small size and the speed with which it boots up and shuts down, the Aspire One makes an ideal mobile platform for photographers, who can use it to edit and store images without carting a full-size around with them. At least, they would if it came with any photo-editing software.

We're going to remedy this by installing Gimp, the foremost image editor for Linux. Right-click on the desktop and go to System > Add/ Remove Software. You'll be asked for your password before you're allowed to go further, then the Pirut package manager will load.

Click on the Search tab and enter "Gimp", then scroll down to the bottom of the results list, where you'll find the Gimp package. Check the box to the left of this, them click on Apply. The package manager will check to see whether there are any other packages that your system needs in order to run Gimp (these are known as dependencies) and will notify you if it finds any.

Click on Continue and Pirut will magically grab the software from the internet and install the software. Well done – you've just installed the Linux equivalent of Adobe Photoshop for precisely £0.

Perhaps even more impressive, if you right-click on the desktop and go to the Graphics menu you'll see that Pirut has even added a menu entry for your new software.

A faster word processor

So much for getting hold of things you didn't have: what about alternatives for the software that's already installed? If you've been using your netbook for any length of time you'll no doubt have come across

It's a full office suite including a spreadsheet, word processor and more, and it currently offers the closest equivalent to Microsoft Office on the Linux platform. Unfortunately, it's also massively bloated, chewing up precious system resources.

Now that you know how to install software with Pirut, you can use exactly the same procedure for AbiWord; just enter 'AbiWord' in the search field instead of 'Gimp'.

Hack AbiWord to save .doc files by default

AbiWord saves documents by default with a .abw file extension, which unfortunately won't open on MS Windows. We can change this every time we want to save something that we need to share with another machine, but it's sod's law that if you're in a rush or working on something particularly important you'll forget to change it and end up with a file that you can't open on a Windows machine.

To remove this risk we're going to change this for good. The Aspire One keeps a lot of its tweakability hidden from view, and this is the case here. There is no graphical menu entry of configuration panel for changing the default saving format in AbiWord, so we'll have to go into the command line.

Open a terminal from the right-click menu and enter ls -a to show the contents of your home directory (remember that the -a part of this command is short for 'all', so you'll see hidden system directories).

Enter cd .AbiSuite (this is case-sensitive) to open this folder, and you'll see that this folder contains a single file called AbiWord.Profile. Log in as root (this time by entering su followed by your root password) and enter mousepad AbiWord.Profile to open the file in a text editor.

You'll see a warning near the top of the file telling you not to edit the file by hand. Ignore this: it's not meant for the likes of us. That said, you should make a copy of the config file before you change anything in here, and be very careful while you're working.

The data in this file is arranged into schemes; you should scroll down to the second scheme, which has "_builtin_" as its first value (it's much smaller than the first scheme, so you may miss it at first). At the end of this scheme (but before the /<), add this line: DefaultSaveFormat=".doc"

As you might have guessed, you can change the .doc part of this to .rtf, .txt or any of AbiWord's file formats. Good work: your machine is now faster, better and stronger.


First published in Linux Format Issue 117

Like this article? Then check out Hack your Aspire One Linux netbook interface

Sign up for the free weekly TechRadar newsletter
Get tech news delivered straight to your inbox. Register for the free TechRadar newsletter and stay on top of the week's biggest stories and product releases. Sign up at

Follow TechRadar on Twitter