20 Linux apps you can't live without

Then, just save it to a folder and load the image into Alexandria. You can search quickly for book titles and authors, but the main purpose of Alexandria is just helping you remember which books you own and which one you want to read next.

Creating tabs for guitar – the notes and instructions that help other guitar players learn the song – can be a difficult task. Usually, it requires using a font in OpenOffice.org and handdrawing the tablatures, or using an expensive music composition program that provides a hundred features in addition to basic tab creation.

TuxGuitar is just for making tabs: it dispenses with any kind of linear sequencing and recording features and provides a way to make the tabs for any song. You can adjust tempo, note duration, signatures, triplets, and add effects such as tremolo and bends to the music.

Most Linux users already know about Ardour, the powerful (but slightly confusing) multi-track audio recorder. (We're not ready to call it a digital audio workstation quite yet.) Jokosher is a much more streamlined track recorder for those who want to record their own demo tapes.

It has few features for creating loops or using files generated from a piano connected to your PC, but it does enable you to add audio files directly into the same interface in which you're recording live instruments.


Sage: open source maths software for when ooo calc just won't cut the mustard

Wolfram Research's Mathematica is still the clear leader in "scientific computing" software for end users and the education market. The program costs several thousand dollars and there's a Linux version available, but you can get by just fine with Sage, an open source equivalent. We found Sage to be a little complex to install: it wouldn't even work with one of our Ubuntu laptops and has a few unheralded dependencies, such as Latex.

Once Sage is up and running, the tool has a number of features for analysing advanced theories, cryptography and calculus. There's an online demo for Sage that enables you to try the software before installing it at www.sagenb.org.

Like the more mainstream drawing tool Visio (which runs only in Windows), Dia is designed for basic flow-charts to make a point about a complex problem or plan. It's a little more freeform than Visio because it doesn't quite have the same stock library of icons and pictures. The basic drawing apparatuses are all here: arrows to point out the decision tree, several shapes to add to the diagram and annotation features with support for many fonts and formatting treatments.

The program shines brightest when you use it for UML (unified modelling language) diagrams that show how an application development will progress, and adding colour to these utilitarian drawings can liven them up. Dia has good community support, but we think they should be up to a version 1 by now.

VariCAD 2008
Complex CAD programs usually cost an arm, a leg and a spleen, but VariCAD is a stark departure from the usual pricing schemes, which typically run into the thousands. For about £300, the program mirrors the features found in AutoCAD, supporting many of the same file formats, such as STEP and DWG, and vast libraries of existing objects (most designed for mechanical engineering).

It also has an interface that tends to put every icon and option right on the main screen, where they're just a click away. This is helpful for serious designers because it means no hunting around for that one hexagonal pen tool.


John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.