Top 7 Best-kept Ubuntu Secrets

As we all know, there are a vast amount of applications available for Ubuntu. People outside the Linux scene will probably have heard and used the most famous open source apps (such as Firefox), but there are a select few programs that are either insanely cool and innovative, or just extremely polished. They might not even be well known within the Linux community, but they make the overall experience that much better for everyone.

So, without further ado, let’s explore Ubuntu’s best-kept secrets!

Banshee 1.2

It came from obscurity into something that became a massive success story. Banshee is a media player that had very few redeeming features compared to the then king of music – Amarok. With the release of the beta, and the more polished later releases, Banshee has become the “Amarok-killer” from Gnome. Notable features include complete integration with (including recommended artists), iPod connectivity and playback, high-resolution album art and some very cool playback features.

Banshee can be downloaded for various distributions (including Ubuntu and Fedora) from its Homepage. Don’t get confused with earlier versions which don’t offer the same features.


Following in the footsteps of Quicksilver for the Mac, Gnome-do allows Linux users to quickly do things simply by typing what they want into a box. Yes, the terminal already has similar functionality, but Gnome-do is infinitely easier to use. It learns what you use most often, so that eventually you can just press “F” to open Firefox with it (as opposed to typing the whole program name). Extra plugins add more features, making it a very useful tool. It really comes into its own when you want to access system settings, such as the appearance panel. Rather than navigating to System > Preferences > Appearance in Ubuntu, users can bring the Gnome-do up with a keypress of choice, and type “app” to get to the settings they want. Of course, describing it is nothing compared to the real thing. Give it a try from the Homepage (click the “get do!” link at the top of the page)

Ubuntu System Panel

Those who migrate from Windows or OSX may notice that the menus of some Linux Distributions (namely Ubuntu) lack any real punch. Ubuntu’s menu may be simpler, but in the process it loses some functionality and, for some, brings back memories of Windows 95 and its archaic start menu.

Ubuntu System Panel is harder to set up for new users, but when you have it customized to your liking (and you can really customize it), it arguably becomes the best menu out of any operating system. In a single button and panel, you can hide a terminal, tracker search, complete list of installed apps, your favorite places and pretty much anything else. Development is very fast, with the maintainer(s) often adding new features hours after someone asked for them. Once installed, it can be updated by running a script, so the latest features and plugins get to you quickly.

All it really needs is a deb file and a predesigned set of settings, and it could overtake all other gnome menus. My custom settings are shown above to show just what you can achieve.

Instructions for installation can be found here (requires usage of the terminal)


If you’ve ever used the Mouse Gestures extension for Firefox, you’ll find EasyStroke very similar. By dragging the mouse in a particular direction, you can open programs and run commands without having to type or click anything. For example, you could create a gesture for email where you draw an “M” shape, which would open Google Mail. Or you could draw a circle to open Firefox. The choice is yours. I like to combine both EasyStroke and Gnome-do, by making a down-stroke open Do, then pressing one letter for any of my most-used apps. It’s lightning fast, which is very useful if I want to find something out quickly.

It’s still early in development, but it shows plenty of promise. Get it from the sourceforge project page and wiki, here. You’ll find instructions for installation, and a good amount of documentation.


Emesene is an IM application which allows access to the MSN protocol with nearly all the features that Windows Live Messenger offers. Although MSN’s usage in the U.S is less than AIM or Yahoo, it is the predominant protocol in much of Europe.

Emesene can do almost everything than MSN can do, except the usual culprits of drawing and webcam support. It supports the features a lot better than Pidgin, but then again, Pidgin supports all major IM protocols. Emesene has very fast transfer speeds, looks very nice, and has an extensive list of plugins. One of my favorite plugins is the album art display picture – this detects what music you’re listening to (from a list of possible music players) searches for the album art for that track, and uses it as your MSN display picture. Very cool.

Installation instructions are, as usual, found on the project homepage.

Ubuntu Tweak

Although it is only for Ubuntu, this program is a very newbie-friendly way to add some 3rd-party apps (some of the above are available this way), and also to change various system settings without having to edit text files. It is especially useful on new installations, where you can change a lot of the most-needed settings quickly. It allows you to easily get the latest development version of Compiz Fusion, so you can try out the very latest special effects if you want to. You can also use Tweak to try out the cutting edge of KDE 4 as opposed to the earlier (and buggier) versions in Ubuntu’s repositories.

Grab it from its project homepage.

Okay, it’s not an application, but more an online collection of some of the software that’s not in Ubuntu’s repositories for various reasons (e.g newer versions of programs which haven’t been officially added yet). It’s also great for the programs which would otherwise require you to compile, which can be a nightmare for new users. Have a look here


As you can see, these are just some of the secret applications that the Linux community has at its disposal. Some may be well-known in Linux circles, but some of these add more and more reasons for outsiders to switch.

Thanks for reading!


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