What to put on a Linux netbook

A friend who’s going to England soon and doesn’t want to carry
his Macbook, but wants to be able to check email, bought a
used netbook with Linux on it. He’s used Unix at work quite a
lot, so he wasn’t expecting to have much difficulty with

I don’t know that it was especially difficult, but he was
complaining about how time-consuming it was while he figured out
the package management system and found the names of all the
programs he needed to load.

I have a lot to do this morning, so I thought posting this
correspondence might be useful and quick.

At one point, he wrote me:

Spent far too much time figuring out the netbook. Have better
understanding of the Package Manager now. Installed emacs, ed,
lynx, audacity, ghostview and some other stuff. Still need
ssh and scp. Still need codecs for audio and video — probably
a big list, including h.264 and AAC/FLAC for sure. And MIDI —
Acer’s version of mplayer won’t play midi files!

Any suggestions for codecs, utilities?

and I replied:

I use timidity for playing MIDI.

In ubuntu there’s a package called something like nonfree-extras that
has all the codecs you generally need. It will install it if you try to
play something it doesn’t have the codecs for.

If you don’t have xpdf, you need it. The default in ubuntu [evince] has some
bugs that make the lilypond output look bad.

If you run into audio problems, gnome-alsa-mixer can usually fix them.
It has more knobs and buttons than the other mixers. Their names don’t
make sense, but if you twiddle them for long enough, the audio starts

If you want to read books, get FBReader. The latest version will go out
to the web and get anything out-of-copyright for you.

For system monitoring, I use something called gkrellm, which has a bunch
of little programs (called krells) that will tell you the weather and
the phases of the moon and how busy your cpus and disk drives are.

ssh is probably called openssh, and you probably need both server and

I don’t know what you use for graphics, but getting imagemagick is
probably a good idea. Gimp is overkill unless you really want to do
high-powered stuff, but being able to convert between formats is good.

I find gnumeric less bloated for spreadsheets than openoffice. And you
can read Word documents with just the wv package.

Hope this helps.

Later, in a message titled
Yahoo! Acer runs stuff!
, he wrote:

I saw more of the useful ssh stuff in Add/Remove today,
Oh is there stuff. Pages and pages of stuff, most of which
I’ll never need nor want to put on here.

and I replied:

I forget what the command line search for rpm’s is [rpmfind], but I never use the
GUI for exactly that reason. On ubuntu, I would say something like
“apt-cache search openssh”, and pipe it through grep if it gave me too
much stuff to read.


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