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The Final Linux  Task Based Hotlist
Using Linux and want to go the easy way? Thinking that a task could be much easier using a GUI? Now how to get this working on the commandline, what where these parameters again? A nice tool that exists just to relieve you of your agony, but you don't know how it is called and how to get it.

Well, this lists purpose is to help in these cases.

Hopefully, you will find many new helpers and tools that you did not know existed. OSS is full of them.

This list is task based, tell me what you want to do and I show you the tool for it
All this is talking about Debian Sarge, a wonderful linux distribution. Not just for hard core people, but in many ways easier to use than the big famous distris. Ever grappled with RedHat / Fedora / SuSE and the dependency nightmare? Worry no more, Debian resolves them automatically.
I also mainly use KDE, so forgive me for showing so many KDE based tools. Some of the tools mentioned here also come from Gnome, so install both Desktop Environments and you can benefit from both.

I have found over the years that there are actually TONS of great linux tools, and you might have a need for it, but you might not find it easily. I discover one every month or so and wonder how I lived without it before.
This is mainly due to the lack of marketing in linux. While proprietary systems vendors use lots of time shouting around how great their product is, OSS software usually, as many talented engineers and professionals think that produce it, should stand it it't own, that the quality speaks for itself. And yes, it does. BUT many people miss out of the great stuff and the great programs since they have not so much time scouting around for great tools like I do.

So here is a list that is a total "must have" for me:

synchronize filesystems:

one way mirroring:
rsync is a great tool, works over a ssh link, possibly without a password (key) but only one way.

The neat thing about it: It only transfers files that have been changed and has a pretty fast and smart way of finding out which have.

grsync (gui)



works both way and enables "replication" of files

System administration:

Assorted system config tools:
Program command-line Where to find them on KDE K "start" Menu
Service config ksysv System/SysV-Init Editor
User management  users-admin System/Users and Groups
Network config network-admin System/Networking
Grub config boot-admin System/Boot
Screen Resize and rotate  krandrtray Screen Resize & Rotate
System Info kinfocenter System/Info-Center
Time Administration time-admin System/Time and Date
KDE Find tool   kfind Mainmenu bottom, uses slocate, which has to be installed
KDE Cron kcron ?
X Config does unfortunetely not exists.

add and remove programs, manage software:

apt-get (command-line)

The great tool that makes Debian as great as it is. Enables you to automatically download packets from the internet, install and configure them, all in just one command. World class, the best package management system that exists and I have seen a few. See here for a dedicated page of it.

synaptic (gui)


Basically the same as apt-get, but with a nice looking GUI. Ideal if you want to browse though the total collection of software that exists for Debian. You never know what great programs you might find in there. And with two clicks, it is downloaded and installed. Allows to install or remove multiple programs at once, a thing windows users can unfortunaltely only dream of.


easy simple way:

more advanced with more options and possibilities:


Firestarter is fast and easy, setting up a firewall with it is no problem at all. Its wizard asks you a few questions and sets it up for you. GUI based. It uses iptables, which in term uses the ipfilter that is built into basically every linux kernel. Yes, linux has the firewall already built in, because there in the system core is where it belongs. Firestarter is not for every case though, sometimes it might be too limited of a thing, depending what you need.

Fwbuilder is for the more professional minded people, object oriented and basically limitless in its possibilities. The rules are set up with a GUI front and and then compiled (and shadowed rules are detected) and installed (even to a remote host, over ssh). It supports the following firewalls:
FWSM, ipfilter, ipfw, iptables, PF and PIX.
The object oriented approach really does help with multi homed complicated setups, but you better know some advanced stuff about firewalls before trying this tool. You got to know what you want to do, since it does not offer too much help deciding.  
 I recommend Iptables, good enough and easy to get. The rule compiler has some intelligence and will give hints for dumb rules that don't make no sense (i.e. when one rule shadows out another).

Partition a disk

Crazy enough, but there is really no tool that can be used by a non proficient user.
Qtparted that is included in knoppix misleads as it has a nice GUI frontend, but really is only an extension for parted. Most of the time, Qtparted seems to fail, complaining that it cannot complete the operation. This is usualy due to the limitations of parted, which are numerous: When moving partitions, they cannot overlap, resize can only happen on the back, not on the front.
Parted is old, solid, but frankly totally outdated. Why? Well, when you try to create a ext3 partition in it, it will tell you that ext3 support is not implemented already.
We now write (as of writing this) the year 2006 and the reference one and only partition tool cannot create ext3 filesystems.  Great.
OSS has so many great things, progressive features and nice ideas. Partitioning is not one of them on linux.
Partition Magic, being proprietary (and therefore so ugly when viewed from a OPEN and STANDARDIZED worldview) keeps turning up in my hands, because sadly enough it just can do what all other part tools in linux fail miserably.

Partition Magic is not being developed more, which makes me wonder if partitioning has suddenly become outdated.
No, we still like always need to partition our drives when restoring or backuping anything on it.

Many call parted totally easy, but I beg to differ: A tool where you still got to enter the blocks / bytes by hand and basically calculate how much a partition will take up, instead of being able to work with for example percentages, is just not modern and userfriendly in my eyes.
This can be simplified and it should.

update as of September 2006:
gparted seems to be a useful and nice tool. If your distro is new enough, you can use it. If it is old, chances are you won't be able to just install it easily. Debian Sarge (as to date: stable) for example does not include it. Debian Etch (as of date: testing) though does.

update as of March 2007:
It seems like gparted is the ONLY viable partitioning tool that is free and has a GUI.


Create a image of a partition or disk

easy simple way:

Just a great tool, rivals Symantecs Ghost in many ways. One being free, and the other producing a transparently compressed and open fileformat, not the ghost proprietary mumbo-jumbo "you-ll-never-know-what-is-inside".
Being included in any Knoppix helps a lot. If you ever tried to configure a network card under DOS for using with Ghost in order to beam an image over to another system, you have truly went through hell.
Linux (i.e. Knoppix) has a TCP/IP stack ready to use which takes a lot of pain out of it.
The only limits that partimage has is that it just can't make images of whole disks. It needs partitions to work, both on the source and the destination side. Also, it cannot just beam one partition to another, it will need to create an image file as a middle step.

partimaged is the server side daemon that is supposed to run on the receiving side. Showing the slots of connected clients it offers a lot less options that Ghost, but is easy enough to understand, while one can spend hours trying to figure out which component does what in Enterprise Ghost.

Filemanagement or filesharing

File administration tool, similar to Windows Exporer or Totalcommander/Windowscommander:

mc (command-line)
Short for midnight commander, it is very similar to the above mentioned totalcommander or norton commander. It is based on the command line.

krusader (gui)


Krusader is pretty much the same as totalcommander. I am a big fan of totalcommander on windows, but sadly the author of it has absolutely no plans to port it to linux.

Mount a Samba drive (windows shares):


Ever tried to quickly mount a samba share without having a PhD on mount and the mount options for smbfs? Well, here is the tool. Works fast and easy and with a GUI. There are a lot of other tools around, but mostly all of them tell you how it was 1982 when Unix was hip (if you know what I mean, where a pretty GUI was a totally new feature and considered vain)

Mount or unmount a disk:

An applet that integrates into KDE and lets you mount of unmount with one click. Neat, especially for CDRoms.

ssh and sftp.
FTP it totally out, for the ones that did not hear it yet. FTP transfers passwords plain-text, everybody listening in on the line can catch your username and password and has nice access to your stuff from then on.

The marvel of ssh is that it is encryped and totally secure and with the sftp server that is automatically integrated into every ssh server, you can transer files from any two machines, even over the insecure internet, a thing that windows filesharing is really bad at doing securely.

If you have a linux setup with a ssh server, you can access any file on it, even with root access with these tools:

scp (command-line)

part of the ssh suite, similar to cp (copy).

gftp (gui)

Gnome ftp tool that can also handle sftp.

Process monitor

good: top (command-line)
better: htop (command-line)

Htop is a great example of how things unix can become better on Linux.


Talk about good use of colors here.
It is still command-line, but why not take it into the future a little bit?
The blue bar can be moved around, horizontal and vertical, which is nifty to explore what is running on the system and who is hogging all the cpu power.

Explore your system/hardware



A hallmark of finding out what is in your system, eventhough you might not have a driver for it, is lspci.
It will show you what you got connected to the pci-bus. A thing you can't really do in Windows and has saved me lot's of headaches so far.
Add the parameter -v  (for verbose) and you will receive a lot more information.


Same command but for the USB bus.


Edit Audio



Photoshop replacement

The Gimp
No need to talk much about that, the Gimp has reached a lot of fame as a Photoshop replacement. The GUI is cumbersome and takes some getting used to, but given that it does 80% of what Photoshop does and that is is totally free and much faster installed than Adobes expensive product, it wins hands down. Also, it runs on all operating systems, and is directly downloadable (and in Debian, installable) from the web.

If you think you have found a better tool for a specific purpose, please let me know. I am always looking to make things more efficient and better. Some of the tools described above are not ideal, yet they work reliably. Find a better alternative is always welcome!

this document was created on:
2. Aug. 2006
updated on:
9. May 2007