The best Linux apps make it simple and easy to get the most from your distro, especially when it comes to internet, media, and general computing use.
One of the big advantages of most Linux distros isn't just that they are free and open source - so are most of the software applications used for Linux. While some business-orientated software does come with a cost, for most home users most of what they will need won't be.
But what are the applications that most Linux will want to have installed? Luckily, many Linux distros come with a number of essential software packages already bundled, as is the case with Windows and Apple desktops. This means you shouldn't have to spend too much time looking for what you may actually need.
However, Linux software is in constant development and so are the software apps used to run on it. While updates for those bundled should be easy to manage, you'll probably still want to ensure you have a full range of the most useful software, not all of which may be included.
Therefore here we'll look at the best Linux apps to ensure your Linux experience isn't any less rich than other operating systems. We'll explore how well each app performs the task it sets out to and how it compares to non-Linux options.
The best Linux apps of 2022 in full
Firefox is the default web browser for a number of Linux distros such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint. The browser’s simple and fluid interface is one of its many attractions. Firefox will play YouTube videos right out of the box, and can download plugins to play other formats for you. The browser also updates itself from the get-go, meaning you always have the latest version.
Firefox supports a number of extensions and plugins to enhance your web experience, and you can customize the browser further via the Mozilla add-ons page (opens in new tab), where it is possible to install a colorful theme.
Firefox's built-in dev tools easily rival, and in some cases better, those found in Google Chrome, so it's a natural choice if you're using one of the best Linux distros for developers.
Read our full Firefox review.
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Also from Mozilla, Thunderbird is a free and powerful email client. The setup wizard guides you gently through the process of either creating a new email address or setting up your existing one. Thunderbird's database contains email settings for all common providers, and you can add as many email accounts as you wish.
Like Firefox, Thunderbird can be enhanced by add-ons such as themes to make it more colorful, or better ways to sort your Mail folders. The most useful of these is undoubtedly the Lightning extension which adds a fully functioning Calendar to the email client.
There's also a large library of extensions and plugins that expand the Linux app's functionality in any way you can imagine.
With all of your emails and contacts stored locally, Thunderbird is a great option if you ever need to work without an internet connection.
Read our full Thunderbird review.
LibreOffice is nothing less than a full-blown free office suite, on a par with commercial alternatives like Microsoft Office. While the interface may look rather basic, this Linux app has some extremely advanced features.
The LibreOffice word processor Writer, spreadsheet software Calc, and presentation app Impress are preinstalled in Ubuntu and most of its derivatives. The suite also includes three less well-known apps – Draw, Math, and Base – which are used for editing vector graphics, composing mathematical formulae, and managing databases respectively.
While LibreOffice uses the ODF (Open Document Format) by default it can open and save Microsoft Office compatible files too.
As it's open source software, new features are being added all the time. If LibreOffice doesn't do what you want out of the box, chances are there's an extension that will add the functionality you need.
Read our full LibreOffice review.
VLC is most commonly known for being a media player, although it does much more than this. When installed, it downloads codecs for virtually every kind of audio or video file, meaning you're unlikely to ever have playback issues again. The software can also play DVDs.
You can use VLC to clip video files and even convert them from one format to another – from AVI to MP4, for example. See our how to convert videos with VLC guide for more. The media player client can also act as a server, allowing you to stream media with VLC from one device to another.
VLC has a strong, active community producing skins and addons that build even more functionality into this helpful media app. We think it's good enough to be the only media player you'll ever need.
Read our full VLC Media Player review.
Shotcut is a free and open source video editor that's available not just for GNU/Linux but also macOS and Microsoft Windows. It features support for the latest video and audio formats, including 4K, and includes a wide range of video and editing effects.
If you own a Linux machine with multiple monitors, you'll be pleased to read that this best Linux app contender supports additional displays right out of the box.
Unlike some free video editors, Shotcut lets you work with multiple video and audio tracks simultaneously, combing footage and sounds to create popular effects and transitions.
Speaking of which, Shotcut ships with a selection of built-in transitions, allowing you to create professional-looking content with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. This is simply not the case with Shotcut. Sure, it's a little rough around the edges, but it's a serious contender even when compared to the likes of Adobe Premiere Pro.
Read our full Shotcut review.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free image editor. It can be used to edit and retouch images by resizing, adding layers, and other special effects. You can access these via the handy toolbox or dropdown menus. The developer's website itself has a great selection of GIMP tutorials (opens in new tab).
If you're accustomed to Adobe Photoshop, it may take some time for you to adjust to GIMP's interface, but it can do almost everything that other professional image editors are capable of. You can even add certain Photoshop plugins to GIMP.
By default, the program takes up less than 100MB, which is another considerable benefit, particularly for those short on disk space. An active community of developers ensures it's kept up to date and maintains its position as a serious rival to popular commercial programs.
Read our full GIMP review.
Audacity is a music editing program that allows you to record and tinker with audio. Not only can Audacity record audio simultaneously from various inputs (for example, a USB microphone or an electric guitar), it can also trim and edit clips. Furthermore, it supports multiple tracks, allowing you, for instance, to record lyrics and backing music separately yet at the same time.
The software also supports a number of audio effects such as noise reduction, as detailed in the extremely comprehensive Audacity manual (opens in new tab) which is both bundled with Audacity and available online. Audacity also supports VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins. Tracks can be exported in a number of popular sound formats such as WAV, OGG and MP3.
Audacity is simple to use and feature-rich, even when compared to much more expensive digital audio workstation software. This is a great Linux app for musicians and podcasters.
Read our full Audacity review.
Visual Studio Code is Microsoft's free text editor for coding, and provides cross platform support now just for Windows but also macOS, as well as Debian and Red Hat families of Linux. It comes with a range of plugins, provides keyboard shortcuts, supports code refactoring, debugging, and includes Git integration.
Like Atom and Sublime Text, it offers a variety of packages and free extensions that can be downloaded from its marketplace to add additional features – and the code editor itself can be customized.
Visual Studio Code sports its own terminal and debugger, supports linting, and has integration with all manner of source control tools. We reckon it makes one of the best IDEs for Python developers, as it suggests completions and provides on-the-fly popups that show the documentation for classes and methods.
Read our full Visual Studio Code review.
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VirtualBox is a free open source virtualization machine that provides cross platform support, including for Linux. Although it's owned by Oracle, it still remains the only free professional virtualization product on the market.
It also runs on a very wide range of operating systems, including older ones such as DOS and Windows 3, and also includes Solaris and OpenBSD. It also runs on Apple Mac, and for Apple users, it can host a client Mac VM session.
Oracle has been kind enough to support VirtualBox, and provide a wide selection of pre-built developer VMs to download and use at no cost. And, all of this is free, even with the Enterprise release.
All in all, it's a great way to run programs on Linux that are only otherwise supported by other operating systems.
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Although Linux machines can't be affected by viruses designed to infect Windows, your PC can accidentally forward harmful files to other computers, for example in an email attachment. And these days, there are even some incidences of malware aimed at Linux systems.
The antivirus scanner ClamAV provides some peace of mind, as it can detect many types of malware. It's often used on mail servers but will run happily on your desktop system if you want to scan files or folders.
By default ClamAV can only be used from the command line, but you can use Synaptic to install 'clamtk' and 'clamtk-nautilus' which allows you to scan your system and individual files with a few clicks of your mouse.
ClamAV can be found in almost every Linux app repository and boasts a vast database of viruses that is frequently updated.
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What is a Linux app?
Linux apps are programs you can install on your computer to expand the functionality beyond what is provided in your Linux distro.
Many Linux distributions come with a bundle of apps to cover the most common needs, so you may not need to install more. Like the Linux OS, many of the best Linux apps are open source and free to use, even for commercial purposes.
How to choose the best Linux apps for you
There are thousands of Linux apps that all solve different problems and allow you to perform a wide range of tasks. The best Linux app for you will depend entirely on what you want to achieve with your computer. In many cases, you will find a comparable free, open source alternative to most mainstream software products.
The best Linux apps: how we test
Where possible, we install and test every app we review in order to share our first hand experience of the program. We assess how easy each app is to install and use, how well it performs a given task, and try all of its key features.
Where available, we also compare the apps to any commercial alternatives. We visit the developers' sites to review supporting documentation, training material, and to see how regularly updates are released.
Read how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar (opens in new tab).
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