A Sampling of Linux Software
Okay, you are using Linux on a Macintosh. The chances are that it's not a server, so what do you do with it?
Last week we took a close look at GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, and suggested using it instead of Photoshop. This is fine, but unless you're in a design studio with many computers, you probably use your Mac for a whole lot else. After you're finished tinkering with your photos in GIMP, what next?
You could reboot into the Mac OS, but this begs the question - why use Linux at all? Why not just stick with Photoshop on the Mac OS? What else can you do in Linux on a PPC machine?
For all intents and purposes, Unix is the Internet. Okay, the majority of professional websites are still designed on Macs, but it's Unix that does most of the serving thanks to its rock-solid networking capabilities. You'd expect that Unix variants such as Linux would have plenty of Internet applications, and you'd be right, even on a minority platform such as PPC/Linux.
Here we'll just look at one of the most popular Internet activity, Web browsing. After all, no matter what version of Linux you have installed on you Mac, it has come with plenty of email applications.
Netscape is the obvious choice and was doubtless included with your Linux distribution. Netscape does have its downsides though - it crashes frequently and is rapidly dating, but that's not where it ends. The PPC version of Netscape cannot use Netscape plug ins. Bizarre, but true. Nevertheless, Netscape Communicator remains a safe choice as it's familiar, differing little from the Mac and Windows versions and interprets HTML well.
Mozilla is the open source follow up to Netscape. Abandoning the majority of the old code, Mozilla is a rewrite from the ground up and includes the famous Gecko display engine. It is a very serviceable browser, though the package size is enormous and you'll need a fairly hefty Mac if you want to see good results. Thankfully, unlike it's predecessor, it can use Netscape plug ins. GNOME office uses a version of Mozilla named Gaelon as its standard web browser.
Opera Software have released their popular and light Opera Web browser (version 5.0 final) for the PowerPC in free "adware" or $25 shareware versions. Like its x86/Linux, Mac OS, and Windows counterparts, it's stable, quick, and has a decent interface.
Part of the KDE environment, Konqueror is an excellent little browser and, unlike Netscape, it can use Netscape plug ins. Hmm. This application is installed by default by most distributions, so why not give it a try. If nothing else, it's a cut above the previous KDE effort.
The Mac is famed for kick-starting the desktop publishing boom in the 1980s, and rightly so. The intuitive GUI and applications such as MacPaint, PageMaker, and even ClarisWorks allowed a whole new set of uses for desktop computers. So what if you're switching your Mac over to Linux, even part time? Do you have to sacrifice your productivity to play with this new operating system?
Of course not. While there are no direct replacements here for the behemoths of publishing such as Quark XPress or Adobe InDesign, there are plenty of alternatives to AppleWorks and Microsoft Office, and if you take care you can get excellent results.
Most Linux users on the Intel platform use either Sun Star Office or Corel WordPerfect Office. Unfortunately neither is available for PPC/Linux. Both are dependent on x86 specific code, and Corel's effort even uses WINE emulation, so it is unlikely to ever make it to PPC/Linux.
Progress. OpenOffice is the open source version of Star Office, and thankfully there is a build for the PPC chipset. It is easily comparable to Microsoft Office in terms of usability, features, and, sadly, bloat. However, if you need a professional office suite for no cost, this is the best bet. It is still under heavy development. OpenOffice consists of a word processor, Open Writer; a spreadsheet, Open Calc; a vector illustration program, Open Draw; and Impress, a presentation application. The plan for this suite of applications is to integrate it with GNOME Office.
This standalone word processor is the application which I use most regularly under Linux and will most likely remain so unless Nisus Software release a Linux version of their excellent Nisus Writer. Abiword looks and feels a lot like the Windows version of Microsoft Word (though not at all like Word 2001 for Macintosh), and though it has less features and virtually no documentation, it is perfectly useable and, most importantly, stable. Abiword is the main word processing component of the GNOME Office suite. This is included with most distributions.
Another GNOME Office application, built using the GTK toolkit, Gnumeric is an Excel-like spreadsheet. This is a fairly robust program and has the vast majority of the features that normal users would ever want. Accountants may have to look elsewhere for the time being, as, like many open source efforts, it's not quite finished. Small businesses and home users will be right at home though.
Part of the KDE desktop, KOffice is most directly comparable to AppleWorks. That is, it is very useable but doesn't have all of the functionality of Microsoft Office. This is less of a mixed blessing than it sounds. MS Office is, frankly, overpowered for everyday use. KOffice, usually installed by default, isn't a resource pig, and this is a good enough reason to consider it. It offers word processing, vector illustration, and spreadsheet facilities among many other features, all suitable for SOHO use.
Applixware is a commercial office suite and as such is well supported and easy to use, but if you're using Linux for budgetary reasons, forget it. This isn't free in any sense of the word.
The Mac is a multimedia powerhouse, especially under Mac OS X. Sadly, running Linux limits your options somewhat, but the following applications are worth looking at. Don't forget that KOffice and OpenOffice both include rudimentary drawing and presentation tools.
The GNU Image Manipulation Program. This Linux stalwart is basically a slightly cut down open source Photoshop clone. We looked at it in detail last week.
Apple's QuickTime format for movie files is a standard across the Mac OS, Windows, and Unix, despite the attempts of companies such as Microsoft and Real Software to usurp it. However, Linux support is patchy. XAMIN allows you to play older QuickTime movies (version 2.5 and below) in Linux on your PPC machine. Sadly, it doesn't support streaming or the other advanced features of QuickTime 3, 4, or 5.
XMMS is great little application similar to the popular MacAmp and will play your MP3 files without stuttering and stopping. iTunes it isn't, but then again, it doesn't have iTunes' resource overhead.
This application is something of an oddity. It is a version of RealPlayer, the popular video and audio streaming software, but while it is closed source, it is supported by the PPC/Linux community rather than by Real Software. Installing this application opens a world of entertainment to you including great sites such as IFILM.COM. Most importantly, in the absence of a decent QuickTime client, it's really your only choice.
BOCHS is an x86 emulator that allows you to run DOS, Windows, and x86/Linux, should you feel inclined.
Scribus is a Quark-type DTP application. it doesn't have all of the functionality, but it's worth a look.
xchat is a graphical IRC client and has reached v1.8.1. Source code can be obtained from : -
Knapster2 for KDE2. Knapster is a clone of the Windows Napster client and requires KDE. A prebuilt RPM is available on-line.
QCAD is an excellent 2D computer aided design program that can be recompiled to run on PPC/Linux.
HotJava, Sun's Java-based browser, runs just fine on PPC/Linux, though it does require a working installation of Java (obviously).
Anti-Productivity software (Games)
The SNES9x Super Nintendo emulator is available in prebuilt form for PPC/Linux.
Bungie's classic Marathon is now open source and runs on PPC/Linux.
This short article only scratches the surface of PPC/Linux software, but hopefully it's given you a taste of what's available. You may have to do a bit more digging than x86 users, but the software is available.
This article was previously published in Linux Magazine (UK).
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