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The Best Linux Applications of 2013

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2013 – What A Year, Right?

This time last year we knew nothing of Ubuntu Touch; Canonical attempting to raise $32 million for a cutting-edge smartphone would’ve sounded insane; Mir was the name of a space station, while Wayland was the future. And as far as Saucy Salamanders and Trusty Tahrs were concerned, they were but adjunct words on the pages of untroubled thesaurus.

How times change. 2013 has been a busy year for penguin lovers. Canonical has made big strides forwards in its march to the beat of convergence, as an estimated 25 million people continue to use the regular desktop version for their day-to-day computing needs.

But key to both experiences are apps. Last year we rounded up 10 of our favourite apps that debuted on the desktop. This year we’re doing things a little differently by also including updates released during the course of the year.

We’ve opted to exclude ‘obvious’ choices like Firefox, Chrome, LibreOffice and Steam because we all know they’re awesome anyway, plus this way we get to highlight lesser-known apps and utilities that, this year, made the desktop experience all the more awesome. 

What did we pick? Read on.

Geary

2013 saw Yorba, the non-profit behind Geary, try, and fail, to secure a future for the app through crowd funding. That could’ve been where things ended for the app; a dour footnote in the history of apps failing to reach their true potential. Thankfully it wasn’t.

The release of Geary 0.4.x a few months after that disappointing set-up later proved a testament to the dedication and patience of its development team. Building on a strong release from earlier in the year, Geary 0.4 arrived in October with improved stability and performance and a veritable stuffed envelope of new improvements and features in tow.

Those who insist that the days of desktop mail clients are over are fast being made to eat their words by Yorba. Right now, Geary is one of the the best mail apps on any platform, Linux or otherwise.

Install Geary from Ubuntu Software Center

Birdie Twitter App

Birdie Quicklist in 13.04

Twitter apps for Linux are a bit of an anomaly. While there are a good number of them, few seem to work as efficiently as proprietary apps on other operating systems. That all changed with the hatching of Birdie back in March of this year. As the year passed we got to see it grow from an unstable, crash-prone chick to a mature and confident app sure of its direction.

While it remains far from being the full plumed wonder I’d like, it makes this list because it does what it aims to, looks good doing it, and holds a lot of promise for the future.

Read more about Birdie’s Latest Release

Springseed

springseed

For obsessive note-takers 2013 wasn’t short of options – from GNOME’s obtusely named Bijiben, to the powerful Nitro. But, for me, it was the nimble Springseed that grabbed my attention.

Having been built from the ground-up to be resource-friendly, the app feels responsive and light. The feature set includes all of the vital ones needed to get organised – notebook creation, text formatting, markdown support and drobox sync, etc – all presented within an attractive interface that’s free of needless cruft.

Springseed is a free and open-source and available to download directly from the project website.

Download Springseed for Ubuntu

Unity Tweak Tool

Unity Tweak Tool

First released in the beginning of the year, Unity Tweak Tool has grown to become the ‘must have’ app name falling off the lips of anyone offering post-Ubuntu install advice. With a smorgasbord of settings and customisation tools on-hand, the utility makes tailoring the Unity experience to suit your own tastes a doddle. 

Routinely updated to take advantage of the latest options in each new release of Ubuntu, and offering the safety net of an ‘undo’ button should anything go wayward, it’s easy to see why the app has become a favourite tool for so many.

Install Unity Tweak Tool on Ubuntu

Intel Graphics Driver Installer

intelgraphicsdriverinstaller

Intel (specifically Intel’s Open Source Technology Centre) made installing the latest and greatest Intel graphics drivers easier on Linux this year with the release of the Intel Driver Manager. The utility automate the entire detection, download and install process for the user, requiring only a couple of clicks and the bit of patience.

Initial releases of the manager were not without issue. Thankfully, subsequent releases have seen bugs fixed and quirks ironed out. If you tried it earlier in the year without success it might be well worth trying it again.

Intel Driver Manager for Linux

Ubuntu SDK

sdk

A left-field choice, but an important one. The Ubuntu SDK arrived this year primed with everything developers need to create apps for Ubuntu Touch, both on phone and tablet.

It’s hard to wax too lyrical about a tool that few desktop users will appreciate, but July’s update in particular added some great functionality – including a unified actions API, Ubuntu One database syncing and support for creating converged layouts.

Learn more about the Ubuntu SDK

VoD Enablement App

netflix

Arguably this entry is not so much an app as a hack dressed up to look like one. Regardless, thanks to some clever packaging foo of Erich Hoover, Netflix, LoveFilm and a host of other Silverlight-based video streaming sites are now easily viewable on Ubuntu for the first time – albeit unofficially, of course!

For the full skinny on what’s supported, what it install, and how to get it you’ll want to check out our article from January.

How to Watch Netflix & Others on Ubuntu

VLC

Everyone’s (cue someone saying ‘not mine!’ – ed) favourite media player received a number of updates over the course of 2013, with its most recent major update landing back in September.

Amongst the slew of features and refinements shipped with its Linux build was support for 4K video streams; VDPAU hardware decoding; tweaks to .MKV file playback and improved DBus and MPRIS interfaces.

Lightworks for Linux

lightworks

Lightworks has an odd, but rather brilliant, claim to fame: it’s too featured, too powerful, and too professional-orientated for most desktop users to get to grips with. Addmittedly that’s hardly a shock given the pedigree of the app (used to edit many an Oscar-winning Hollywood film, dontcha’ know).

Editshare, the company behind the app, took their time publishing a Linux Beta (having delayed its arrival on numerous occasions). But, since its release back in April, they’ve been fastidious in ensuring that it maintains feature parity with the Windows builds – a feat only achieved in the most recent set of updates.

Now, with new features and tweaks arriving by the week, there’s never been a better time for those who fancy themselves as the next great movie maker to try it out.

Latest Lightworks for Linux Update

GNOME Music Preview

gnome-music

Alright, alright: it’s not finished. In fact, if you’re not running a pair of highly unstable GNOME PPAs you can’t even use it in Ubuntu.

But that’s beside the point; GNOME Music is one of my stand out apps of this year. For some it’s simple to the point of uselessness, for others the beauty lies in its simplicity. Sure, it doesn’t stack up well against apps tasked with doing ‘all the things!’, but that rather misses the point.

The attention to detail in design and user experience is second to none.

We’ve disabled commenting on this post for a number of reasons, including a lack of civility, trolling and an absence of understanding that this list does not purport to be anything other than our opinion. We’d like to remind readers of our commenting code of conduct and that, by commenting, you agree to abide by it.

Gamers fear ye not: we’ll be covering Steam and the best gaming releases of 2013 in a post later this week.