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Voice of the Masses: What killer app is Linux missing?

The Free Software world is incredibly rich, and covers pretty much all bases. We have a wealth of desktop, server, development and multimedia tools to choose from – some of which are the best in their field. But what is missing? Is there a killer app that prevents you from running Linux 24×7 on your main machine? And should we, as Linux users, be petitioning companies to port (usually proprietary) programs to GNU/Linux, or should we focus our efforts on Free Software alternatives instead?

Maybe Photoshop drags you back to your Mac or PC occasionally, or perhaps you can’t live without AutoCAD. Maybe Linux does everything you need, and you’re a happy bunny indeed! Whatever the case, let us know your thoughts for our next podcast recording, and we’ll read out the best.

69 thoughts on “Voice of the Masses: What killer app is Linux missing?

  1. Civilization V, naturally! (If they can do a Linux port for upcoming ‘Civilization Beyond Earth’ they can surely do it for V!).

    Also, Elite: Dangerous (when it’s released) and Guild Wars 2! It’s always games that pull me away from my Linux box (although Steam is helping make this less of a problem). :)

    1. I’ve heard from another, undisclosed, Linux podcast a Linux version will be released also.

  2. Ignacio de Larderel

    Photoshop, Rhinoceros (CAD app) and most important : Unity3D. If I had Unity3D running in Linux properly -they actually have a native Linux build target- I can work around the rest of my pipeline. I hate to be shackled to Windows and its shenanigans because of one tool.

  3. itunes. having to set up a vm to run it is too much effort for just an app to sync an idevice.

  4. Drop in replacement for Visio – I have never found a Linux app capable of making process maps and flow charts as quickly and easily as Visio.

  5. SuperEngineer

    *NO* killer apps are missing!

    What do you want – for FOSS software systems to be as popular as some others? No way!
    More popular = more attacks. I’m quite happy stting here here in my own selfish little world, thank you.
    Peace & love & long live Linux Voice. ;)

  6. Brian Hunter

    It’s games for me, and we are making huge leaps and bounds with this so that’s exciting.

    It would be nice if Netflix would finally move over to HTML5 so I can watch their content natively on my Linux desktop. So in that regards the killer app would be to kill the app Silverlight?

  7. I think Linux is only missing some good games, especially CRPG…

    Skyrm (Elder Scrolls series in general)
    Dragon Age (Especially the first one)
    Bioshock Series
    Many other games

    I do not miss any really…


  8. Adobe Indesign (specifically the Data Merge tool); Scribus et al are pretty OK, but not quuuite good enough for pro DTP.

    Also, it doesn’t keep me away from Linux, but I really miss the simplicity of audio control under both Mac and Windows. Pulse audio, Alsa and Jack between them often make me want to throw my laptop out of the window.

  9. Something that will print decent photos on photo paper, its the only reason I maintain a win7 install

  10. Phil The Sheep

    Glad I’m not the only person to say this: iTunes. Not that I care about it, but I have a friend who got a new laptop with Windows 8 on it, which he absolutely hates, and he asked me if I could install Linux on there for him. Not being able to run iTunes on there was a show-stopper, as even a dual-boot option was out as most of the time when he uses it, he will be on iTunes, at some point. I’ve had other conversion opportunities scuppered by a lack of reliable iTunes support, too

  11. Apps are not missing. What is missing is maturity and a professional look. We have GIMP not quite as good as Photoshop, FreeCAD not quite as mature as Solidworks. PiTiVi is not quite as fluid as Lightworks…all that means is that while you can do anything in Linux that you can in Macs and Windows, it all takes a little bit longer and is a little bit more fiddly.

  12. I would really have liked a reliable voice recognition app like Dragon Dictate, and a good OCR tools anywhere near as good as those that come with scanners but only run on windows.

  13. I don’t think there are any. To be honest, we need something that is either completely compatible with exchange or find a way to ease corporation’s reliance upon it. That is the only thing that keeps bringing me back to windows.

  14. For the real missing link, look at the Unreal Engine. To get App parity with Windows and Macs requires not apps, but a quality cross platform tool chain. This means a platform for creating QUALITY apps for other systems that can be trivially ported to Linux.

  15. Sultan of Swing

    Recently I set up Lubuntu on my Aunt’s ageing XP laptop and it worked perfectly, along with the printer drivers for her HP all-in-one. For some stupid reason she got it in her head that she needed a new Windows computer (I think she saw Linux as a bit cheapo) and I was slightly annoyed as it seemed my efforts were not appreciated. Anyway, she bought a new PC last week, only to report back that Windows did not recognise her old printer (apparently drivers are no longer available) and Microsoft Office, although installed, wasn’t loading and wanted me to come and look at it. Oh, how I laughed to myself! For my Aunt and me, for our basic needs, Linux has all the killer and mundane apps any user could want.
    The only thing Linux could reasonably want is perhaps a bit of respect and street-cred amongst the home computing brigade. That might be the greatest app we could ask for!

  16. A cross-distro, cross-desktop graphical front-end for the specific package managers that immitates the ease of use of Apple App Store/Google Play would be a killer app.

    1. just like the desktop it’s an issue of everyone reinventing the wheel. if all the dev hours spent on new pkg mgrs had been spent polishing Synaptic instead you would have that

    1. It is actually the point I was trying to make. If this sort of translation can happen with other app development platforms. libre office uses,I think Qt, and therefore can be easily ported to other hosts. But qt is not ubiquitous. If the programming framework for modern windows and Mac software is ported to linux then the apps must surely follow.

  17. Honestly, the one thing I miss in Linux is an equivalent of Microsoft’s OneNote. It’s a very good program. The closest Linux analogue I’ve found is Basket but it doesn’t really compare.

    Besides that, just games really, although it’s getting better all the time and I mostly just play Dota 2 anyway which is already natively supported.

  18. A lockdown app for setting up users and groups workspace in an office environment.
    Also an anti nagging app that reaches out and slaps the person nagging round the face with a wet fish.

  19. Duncan Murray

    I would have said photoshop – but when I moved to linux I gave it up, and found that if I got much better results by simply the exposure correct the first time round. That’s not a really helpful answer, so I asked my wife and she says:

    “Nothing really, not since google docs – no-one can’t open a google docs file”

    So there you have it.

  20. Duncan Murray

    GOd what is wrong with my grammar? That should read ‘that I got much better results by simply getting the exposure correct’

  21. A foolproof Windows-to-Linux conversion utility !

    It analyzes the windows partition to create an equivalent using Linux. It also installs the open source equivalent for each program installed on the windows partition.

    THAT would be a killer application ! Ha !

  22. Stephen Wheeler

    For me, as a former graphic designer, it’s a Photoshop killer we need.

    It’s a bit embarrassing to be advocating the wonders of Free Software only to go scuttling back to Photoshop to do some work.

    The Gimp is a wonder of course, but the pace of development is soooo slooooow. It also lacks any proper colour depth, and of course no CMYK colour space. I know Krita does CMYK but it lacks a full range of Photoshop-like features.

    When I do get people to actually try The Gimp they just hold their head in their hands in despair unable to come to terms with the layout. It does annoy me when people criticise Free Software for no good reason other than it’s not Microsoft, but with The Gimp they have a case.

    Mind you, for batch processing, which I need to do quite often, I look no further than ImageMagick.

  23. Stephen Wheeler

    Oh God, my employer has just unleashed Sharepoint on us.

    A concerted effort to promote something like Alfresco as an alternative might be a good application of our time.

    1. My condolences, Sharepoint is the biggest piece of oversold suck I have ever had the misfortune to have to work with.

  24. Adobe Lightroom. Darktable, Rawtherapee and Lightzone are quite good alternatives but they are quite slow and their workflows are not as good.

  25. Personally I had to use Windows (on VM when possible) for Autodesk applications, Acrobat Reader version 10+ and Skype version 5+. If I have to extend it to applications that stopped or are stopping people I know from moving to Linux the list becomes VERY long, from GIS, to Management, to software developed inside organizations/companies only for Windows. And of course a long list of AAA games. On the other hand Windows lack a package management system and I never forget to tell it to windows users when Windows Update doesn’t work (that is quite often!) :)

  26. Richard Marsh

    A major MMO ie World of warcraft or guild wars 2 and also the ability to play online video services without installing random ppa’s

  27. MS Windows 9.x with an even worse UI than Windows 8.x, and MS dropping support for Windows 7. This will put enterprises in a bind (which is why MS won’t drop 7 for some time).

    Secondly, an email client that talks native MS Exchange MAPI/RPC. Enterprises LIVE ON Outlook. I’m convinced that it is the only reason MS Office is still in widespread use. Email is the communications life blood of an organization. FOSS software can easily create spreadsheets and text docs, but there has yet to be a native Exchange email client. (Yes, I know that IMAP can be enabled on Exchange, but MS sys admins believe it is less secure and won’t open it up in most cases).

  28. Clearly, the “killer app” that will win everybody over to Linux is this: a system that becomes very popular by force and then locks users in and prevents them from switching because all of their companies and friends use them! And incompatibility EVERYWHERE ELSE!

    If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. Why are schools so insistent on proprietary software for so much of their education system? What we really need is more schools to adopt a free software workflow, and when they’ve already invested in Windows and businesses have already invested in Windows and the schools are teaching their students based on what the businesses have selected, that’s not going to happen!

    What we need aren’t home-user-oriented programs. What we need is for the business workflow and internal company organization and communication programs to be more robust and complete. I truly believe that the rest will follow.

    And yes, having a professional-grade graphics editor would be fantastic for that field, but that’s not the majority of fields. Focusing on the business sector is what will change the education sector, which will change people’s introduction and extended exposure to software in general! The killer app isn’t an app at all, it’s social engineering.

    1. The thing about schools gets me every time. I work in a school that are about to upgrade their staff laptops because they run xp. They’ll probably spend around 8 grand doing it. I recently bought a refurbished laptop virtually the same as theirs for my to run my small music studio from – if it can do that it’s plenty for most teachers.

      Having said that their is probably no white board software so maybe there’s an answer.

  29. ChloeWolfieGirl

    I don’t think there’s a particular app, when I switched to Linux I installed Ubuntu and erased windows 8, I just coped and got used to not having windows apps, so there are no apps that I “NEED” just ones that I’d like, but I’d rather see more Linux support for applications I don’t care for then just have one application that I would want, surly applications I want would come with others switching over in the long run anyways!

  30. Barney Parker

    A Rock-solid desktop experience! Linux as a server or embedded OS is fine, but on the desktop it’s clunky, incomplete, and generally not a great experience. There are so many alternatives, and so many possible customizations it’s just not practical to try them all.

    I know we’re all supposed to hate windows, but Win 7 has a great desktop. Mac’s also have a great desktop. End user’s and enterprises don’t care about FOSS, customizability etc, they care about a system that “just works”.

    1. This is an interesting comment. Having used Linux for years, I have been content on Windows more recently, mainly because of some tools I need. However, I feel like where Windows is truly lacking is on the desktop. I find it very useful to have features like virtual desktops, control over depth of windows (e.g., allowing a window to stay above other windows), and so on.

      Then again, maybe we have different priorities, as I am happy using Windows Classic theme without the bells and whistles on Windows, but most happy in Fluxbox/Openbox on *nix.

  31. My Linux boxes do nearly everything I want with support for some hardware lacking. (Hello TomTom.) The one thing I would like to see is a unified action when our system passwords are required. Sometimes the password window is selected and, sometimes (wrongly) it isn’t. After frantically typing my password in I like a row of stars there but, if the window requires to be manually selected first, there’s nothing.

  32. SMARTNotebook works very nicely on my #! notebook, although since the IWB just works with no drivers being installed I just use GIMP or Xournal whenever I want to annotate exam papers.

  33. Burgess Meredith

    For me personally it would be a design suite on par with Adobe. In particular a real InDesign replacement. Scribus does not cut it as professional layout software.
    The universal killer app is already here. Libre Office. Cross platform and capable of doing everything that 95% of the world needs in a word program. The problem is Libre files acting buggy when opened in MS Word. The challenge is to convince the world that this is a Microsoft problem, not a Libre problem. If everyone switched to the free alternative it would be a non issue.

    1. Office 2013 has remarkably good compatibility with OpenDocument. The only problem is with some complex diagrams in Writer not opening quite right, but I think Office 2013 can open OpenDocument better than LibreOffice 4 can open Office Open XML (docx, etc).

  34. Although there are a few games I would love to see on linux, the thing that I would want most, is hardware drivers for fitness watches:
    Polar, Garmin etc…

  35. I’ve been Linux on the desktop full-time since 1998, so I’m a little biased here: the Linux desktop is fine, and so filled with choice that you’re sure to find something you like.

    The real thing that needs work is file/print/email servers. I know this seems counter-intuitive, since that was traditionally Linux’s strong point. But nowadays the corporate server is where Linux is disappearing, probably forever.

    Exchange has the email server world so wrapped up it makes me depressed every time I think about it. When people talk to us about our email server, they often say, “You need to do X on your Exchange server.” “We don’t run Exchange”, I say. The looks of bewilderment are telling.

    We need a compelling drop-in replacement for Active Directory and Exchange: an Active Directory implementation that works as well as Windows’, a usable certificate server, a proxy authentication scheme that integrates fully with the directory and doesn’t require the CEO to enter his or her password 20 times, and a RADIUS server that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon. And the setup process has to take no more than 25% extra labour over an equivalent Windows setup. Every time I touch FreeRADIUS I understand why people install Windows servers. (More on the last point here:

    1. I agree. Having worked in a fully MS certified environment, the Exchange server is a central piece of MS’s success. Contacts, calendar, e-mail, collaboration; AFAIK there is no equivalent to tie existing software together.

      But there is no real reason why it can’t be done in a Free way too, and better and more secure.

  36. Microsoft Office. I’m pretty surprise that it hasn’t be mentioned yet.

    Personally, I use LibreOffice but I know a lot of users that will not use a SO that doesn’t run MS Office. LibreOffice is pretty good but sometimes you need to use MS Office, for example, documents with macros.

    1. Steam offers MS office to Linux users by streaming now, if you alt tab out of some applications, you can access the entire Windows desktop.

      But that’s probably a bug;)

  37. I don’t think we should be porting proprietary applications to GNU/Linux as an overall strategy. (It may well happen if the GNU/Linux desktop is recognized as a viable market, which is starting to happen thanks to Valve.)

    Instead we should try to compete with the successful projects in the proprietary world; examples are Adobe InDesign, Active Directory, Exchange. I don’t think recreating but competing with them is a sound strategy.

    The “selling point” of F/OSS is that it meets your needs, whatever it is, thanks to an open and transparent OS and software architecture.

    You can tweak Exchange, but it doesn’t fit the business, the business has to fit it. We should have a F/OSS alternative to Exchange, but in virtue of following UNIX principles it should outperform any closed offering by always fitting the mission requirements.

  38. Anonymous Penguin

    For users, I’d say iTunes or a drop-in iTunes replacement. iTunes kept me from moving to Linux until the last of my iPods broke and I was left only with the media. It’s an enormous and beastly piece of software, but iTunes solved multimedia and app syncing years ago, including play counts, and no other program on any platform does podcast management so well (iTunes 11 notwithstanding). With iTunes, I have ONE desktop app for ALL my multimedia library needs. VLC is great for downloaded media that I plan to discard, or for odd file formats, but iTunes has everything I want to keep in one place.

    For businesses, I’d say MS Exchange and Active Directory. Any mixed-OS office would give several limbs and firstborns for a drop-in open source replacement for either, and the existence of replacements would force MS to make their existing products better just to compete. Everybody wins!

  39. Orange Dolphin

    I spent 3 years in Apple’s locked arms and now I can’t access my filevault 2 encrypted hard drive or watch my movies.
    Despite that, I don’t want iTunes to work on Linux. Switching to an open OS was a part of a bigger life style change for me. I try to think more about the choices I make, about who I give my money and what I get back. To that end, I’d rather help crowd fund an opensource project than give another penny to Apple or Microsoft.
    iTunes not working on Linux means that people look for alternatives and that alternatives are being developed. Hopefully one day all the software mentioned here will have an equal open source competitor. What would be the point of having an open source OS if it functioned as yet another pipe for the software giants’ cashflow?
    On the other hand I realise that me not having access to movies I’ve already seen and data I no longer need doesn’t compare to a professional’s need for a good DTP software. I do think tho, that the open source community with all its talent and passion can create much better software than anyone else can dream up. What it lacks is the finances of the big companies and maybe a little bit of direction. But if you think about it – Adobe charges £46.88 a month for its “Creative Cloud”. How much would it cost to pimp up current software and if needed create new programs to compete with that? How many of us would have to give say £1 a month? How many many more programmers would it take to polish the GIMP, Inkscape and Scribus and create a good Dreamweaver alternative? I might be dreaming but I think the talent is there and so is the money we just need to be able to connect them…

  40. Penguin Fiddler

    Agreed – The thought of contributing revenue, however small, to Apple sickens and disgusts me. My first experience of Apple was with an early iPhone provided by my employer. Excuse me? It’s a phone – You are *NOT* having my credit card details. I don’t run iTunes natively and certainly wouldn’t want to inflict it upon a Linux installation.

  41. I think a killer app would be a native foolproof support for scaled resolutions. Like scaled window in Virtualbox but for the screen in your Linux distribution. This would be a good way to rescue XP netbooks with low resolution screens.

  42. Kevin O'Brien

    I don’t really miss anything on the consumer level. What I think is missing are the business applications that might prompt more companies to take a look, applications like Sharepoint. Microsoft really owns the Enterprise space.

  43. Visio replacement. Damn we need this! The often recommended alternatives are very poor in comparisson.

    Email client development.

    Document management software to link local and cloud files.

    More AAA games! Games drive a plaform regardless of quality of productivity apps.

  44. It would not hate having After Effects. but I can do anything it can do with Blender. So a must have? No, not really.


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