Desktop Applications for GNU/Linux – Part 3: Office/Productivity

There are plenty of office suites as well as a whole host of other productivity software freely available for GNU/Linux. Here you will find an overview of the best free office suites and individual productivity applications.

Charts and Diagrams

Dia is an excellent and simple to use program for creating various types of diagrams. As well as the typical shapes, it has a wide range of specialised shapes for various types of diagram categories such as flowcharts, UML, and circuit boards etc. You can also create or import custom shapes using a subset of SVG.

Many of the shapes will have text boxes already attached to them helping you quickly label your diagrams. For specialised shapes Dia will present you with a dialog-box to enter the various labels for the shapes, e.g. for a UML class diagram you can enter the class name, attributes and operations in the dialg box.

It can export the diagrams to vector formats such as SVG, DXF, WMF and raster formats such as PNG and JPEG making it easy for embedding them in other documents or publishing to the web.

Draw ( is a vector graphics program useful for creating flow charts as well as other diagrams. It can export these diagrams to various image formats as well as Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Flash SWF. It has a rich enough set of shapes and controls for typical diagrams but lacks any specialised sets of shapes found in Dia.

Other Applications

Freemind is a mind mapping/brainstorming application that lets you layout information in graphically linked nodes. Each node contains one or more lines of text. The map can be used for anything from a todo list with tasks and subtasks, to recording your ideas.

As well as navigating through the map by clicking through the nodes, you can perform searches where you will be presented with the matching nodes. It allows you to pan around the map by clicking and dragging the background, and if the map starts getting too big, you can fold nodes, which will unfold when you click on them.

You can colour-code the nodes to mark status etc. and add icons to them. You can also group nodes into clouds.

Freemind lets you export the nodes in a number of formats including Interactive X/HTML pages as well as non-interactive images in Jpeg, PNG, SVG and PDF. There is a flash browser for freemind files that lets you publish your mind maps on the web.

Tomboy is a simple but useful note-taking application. As well as quickly writing little notes and bullet points lists, you can drag URLs, emails (only from Gnome Evolution) into Tomboy. You can highlight and format the text and all links and email addresses are clickable. You can browse through the notes in a reverse chronological list, or search through them and you can organise your notes into notebooks.

Hopefully this list gives you a enough information to help you make your choice. If you are thinking of migrating to a free office/productivity suite one thing you should insist on is support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF). Most of the issues people face today when migrating between software, is the cost of converting their existing data. Choosing ODF will give you a greater choice and help you keep the cost of the migration to a minimum. If you are looking at your options for a fresh start, there really is no reason to choose a suite that doesn’t support ODF.

Some people will have more than one option for each application class installed and will actually use them regularly. I use OpenOffice most of the times, but I do use Abiword and Gnumeric as well, mainly on my old computer. Also, since they are free and most of them do not take a lot of hard disk space there is nothing wrong with having more than one of these installed.

If you feel that there are some other applications that should be listed here or you feel that any of the listed ones should not be recommended to new users please do leave a comment.

Other Articles in this series


Author: Musaul Karim

Software Engineer, Hobbyist Photographer, and a bit of a gadget geek.

5 thoughts on “Desktop Applications for GNU/Linux – Part 3: Office/Productivity”

  1. I agree with most of what you said, but the database products in linux are very poor. They are not nearly as easy to use as Access. And they don’t have anything like a VBA Editor. you need to know all the syntax to write macros with base. It takes much longer to write macros with a normal text editor like code editor.

  2. I actually like Abiword and Gnumeric. OK so, may be it doesn’t have all the formulas and features of OpenOffice let alone MS Office, but in the past five years or so they’ve worked for me just fine.

    I don’t need the bloat of openoffice, and definitely not the bloat and price of msoffice. I’m sure it is true with 90% of the home users. But I guess people just like familiarity!

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