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Linux Mint comes with the Firefox web browser and VLC media player already installed along with more than a dozen other free programs. But if you are going to be writing a book or building a website, then you will also need many other free programs. One of the biggest advantages of Linux over Windows is that there are thousands of free open source programs which you can add to customize your computer. In this article, we explain three ways to add free programs to Linux Mint. First, we will review how to use the Linux Mint Software Manager to add any of thousands of programs. Second, we will demonstrate how to use the DEB package installer to add free programs that are not available in the software center. Third, we will cover how to use the Mint Terminal to add free programs that are not available in the software center or via DEB package files.

Add Free Programs from the Mint Software Manager

Go to the Mint Menu and click on the Software Manager which is the second icon from the top left:

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Linux free programs are organized by category. But if you know the name of the programs you want to install, the quickest way to find them is to type the name into the search box in the upper left corner. The first tool we always add is a screen capture tool called Shutter.

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The green check mark shows we have already installed shutter. To have this program start at first launch and always display an icon in the side panel, open it. Then click on Edit Preferences. Then click on the Behavior tab. Then check Start Shutter at Login and check Hide Window on first launch and uncheck Present main window after taking a screen shot.

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We can now take all of our screenshots without Shutter taking up any space on our desktop by right clicking on the Shutter icon in the bottom of our side panel.

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Next we will add an important graphics editor called Pinta.

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Click on it to open the install screen.

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You can read the reviews. Or just click Install. Then enter your password.
Repeat this process to add several more free programs:

Fotoxx – another important graphics editor.
Open Shot – a simple video editor.
GUVCView - a simple screen recorder.
Sigil – an excellent HTML and ebook file editor.
Calibre – an Ebook Viewer that is capable of viewing any kind of ebook from epub to mobi.
Unetbootin – a tool for making a Live USB for installing Mint or a computer.
VirtualBox – to test operating systems and programs
Kdiff3 – file and folder comparison tool
Chromium – a browser like Google Chrome but without all the spyware.
Waterfox – a lightweight webkit based web browser that is good for playing videos and defaults to the Duck Duck Go search engine.

Why Add Waterfox and Chromium Web Browsers

You may be wondering why we are adding two more web browsers (Waterfox and Chromium) when Mint already comes with the Firefox browser. The answer is that Waterfox is better at respecting your privacy that Firefox and Chromium is better at respecting your privacy that Google Chrome. Firefox Addons work with Waterfox and Google Chrome extensions work with Chromium. We need at least two browsers because when we build websites, we should always check how our website displays in various browser layout engines because different browsers have slightly different ways of displaying various website features. Also, when we build a website, we will use one browser (Chromium) to make the changes (where the browser cache is not cleared) and check the changes in another browser (Waterfox) where we are constantly clearing the cache to see the result.

Add Free Programs with DEB Package Installer

We will also add a couple of programs that are not in the Software Manager using the DEB package installer. Installing new programs with the DEBS package manager is almost as easy as installing packages from the software center. Just go to the website download page and download the “DEB” file. Then transfer the file from your Downloads folder to your File Manager OPT folder. Right click on the File Manager screen before the transfer and click Open as Root in order to make this transfer. Then right click on the file and click Install with DEB package manager.

We will use the DEB install method to add an important free tool for image editing is called XnView Multiplatform. Go to the following web page: https://www.xnview.com/en/xnviewmp/

Then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Linux Deb 64 bit Download button.

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Transfer the package from your Downloads folder to your File Manager OPT folder. Then right click on the XNView DEB file and click Install Package with DEB package manager. When it says Installation Finished, then close the window. Then go to the menu and click on XNView to see if it works.

Add Free Programs with the Mint Terminal

A drawback of using the Mint Software Manager to install programs is that you often wind up with a program that is two or more years out of date. While you get a more current version by using the latest DEB package, there is no way to update the programs over time. A third and perhaps best way to install packages is by using the Mint Terminal to install Personal Packages also called PPAs. These not only install a more recent version of the program, but also can be updated over time. To see how this works, we will first install a screen recording program called Simple Screen Recorder. Right click on the Mint Desktop and select Open in Terminal. Then copy and paste the following command to install the repository:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:maarten-baert/simplescreenrecorder

Then click Enter.

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Type in your password. This will not be shown in the terminal. Do not worry. This is normal. Just click Enter again.

Then copy and paste the following command and hit Enter. Wait for the program to load. Then click Enter again. When this is done, copy and paste the following:

sudo apt-get update

Once the PPA update is done, copy and paste the following line and hit Enter.

sudo apt-get install simplescreenrecorder

Wait until this program completely loads. Then close the terminal. Open the Mint Menu and open the program to make sure it works.

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Use the terminal to update an existing program

One of the biggest problems with the default programs in Linux Mint is that some of them are very outdated. The most important of these outdated programs is LibreOffice – which can be as much as a year out of date. Thankfully, we can use the terminal to quickly update LibreOffice to the latest version – and make sure that as new versions come out, our system is automatically updated to the latest version. To check the version of LibreOffice you have, open a new document. Then, in the Writer menu, click Help, About LibreOffice. Mint 18.3 comes with LibreOffice 5.1.6.2. To get the latest version of LibreOffice, with many new features, we will install the LibreOffice PPA.

First, right click on the Desktop and click Open the Terminal. Then copy and paste the following command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:libreoffice/ppa

Press Enter and then type in your password. Then press Enter again to continue loading the PPA. Then copy and paste this line:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install libreoffice

Then press Enter. This will install the latest version of Libre Office and keeps your Libre Office up-to-date with updates. After it loads, press Capital Y for Yes. Then press Enter.

Improve the Toolbar Icons

Next click View. For Icon Size, you can choose Automatic, Small or Large. For Icon Style, you may only have one option called Human. Here is Human. Many of these icons like Undo and Redo are hard to read.

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We will therefore add an Icon set called Galaxy which is more colorful and easier to read. Galaxy can be installed with the terminal using the following command. sudo apt-get install libreoffice-style-galaxy

Close all writer documents and restart LibreOffice. Then open a writer document and click on Tools, Options, View. Click on Icon Style and you will see Galaxy is now an option. Click on it. Then close Options. Here is what our Writer Top Menu now looks like with the Galaxy icons:

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This makes it more obvious where the Undo icon is located. We will learn how to use LibreOffice in the next two chapters.

Set Up the Linux Mint Panel

We can add Quick Launch icons to our Desktop simply by right clicking on the application and then clicking “ Add to Desktop.” While this is what people commonly do, the problem with placing quick launch icons on our Desktop is they will be hidden anytime we have two or more side by side windows open at the same time. It is therefore best to minimize quick launch icons on our Desktop.

Add Quick Launch Icons to the Left Side Panel

By default, our Nemo File Manager and the Firefox Browser icons are already in the side panel just below the Mint Menu icon. We replaced Firefox with Waterfox. The black Terminal icon was also in this side panel. But we have replaced it with Libre Writer. We have also added Shutter and our Window and Workspace icons to the bottom area of the side panel. We could add any other programs we use very often to the side panel. However, the programs we will use most often when writing books and building websites, besides LibreWriter and Shutter, are our two web browsers. We will therefore add Quick Launch icons for Chromium and Waterfox to our side panel. Here is what the upper and lower portions of our panel look like:

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What’s Next?

In the next chapter, we will review how to use LibreWriter.  

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