As previously discussed, I wanted to explore what other Windows-like apps are available for the Pi. Since my last post though, I realized I forgot entire swaths of functionality!
What about e-mail? What about MS Office? What about an image editor?
And while we’re at it, if we are going to be in this window environment, can we have a visual package manager? Can we have a window app that let’s me browse, search, and install new apps/packages so I can stop doing this “apt-get install <package-name>” stuff?
Yes, yes, and yes – to all of it – let’s dig in!
What kind of software is available?
What if you did want to use the Pi for a computer. What sort of software do you need? The things I mentioned in the other post might be what a developer or IT professional might want, but what does EVERY user need?
- A way to browse/find/update software
- A way to check e-mail
- “Office” apps (spreadsheet, word processor, presentations, etc)
- An image editor
- A good browser (we discussed installing Chromium in the other post)
OK, so what are some common solutions for those? Well, with the exception of Gimp – the options I found are not the same as Microsoft Windows, but they are close-enough, and will do the job. Here’s what I installed, and the command to run from a terminal/SSH window, to install them:
- GIMP image editor – sudo apt-get install gimp
- IceDove email (Debian-branded Thunderbird mail – sudo apt-get install icedove
- LibreOffice the open-source competitor for MS Office – sudo apt-get install libreoffice-writer libreoffice-calc libreoffice-impress libreoffice-draw libreoffice-base libreoffice-math libreoffice-filter-mobiledev
- LibreOffice Base – like MS Access
- LibreOffice Calc – like MS Excel
- LibreOffice Draw – like MS Publisher
- LibreOffice Impress – like MS PowerPoint
- LibreOffice Writer – like MS Word
- Synaptic package manager – sudo apt-get install synaptic
Let’s look at these, in detail…
GIMP Image Editor:
A popular option for image editor is the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). In fact, I wrote about Gimp being my replacement for Adobe Photoshop Elements on both Windows and Mac OS. Oh, and it’s open-source and free! To install, from a command-line, run:
$ sudo apt-get install gimp
You’ll then see a new menu item under Menu –> Graphics –> GNU Image Manipulation Program:
Which gives you a window and let’s you edit images, very similar to Adobe Photoshop Elements:
Icedove e-mail client:
There are a few options for e-mail. In fact, you’ll find a lot of websites recommend “Claws Mail” (sudo apt-get install claws-mail). I found that to be pretty terrible, as you might be able to guess from the NCSA Mosaic-compliant website (nerd joke, that was the first web browser).
$ sudo apt-get install icedove
then, you’ll find the icon under Menu –> Internet –> Icedove:
It will prompt you to set up your e-mail account. When you do – it’s a pretty obvious and intuitive interface, I think:
Hey, what is that “Chat” button in the navigation at the top? Is that it’s own chat or something?
Oh wow, that’s pretty cool! It supports a few different styles of “communication”. Just to see what it looks like, I point to an IRC channel:
As you can see, this is a very reasonable alternative to be able to check your e-mail – and a couple different chat options too.
LibreOffice – the OTHER Office!
If you spend your time in Microsoft Windows, you may not have run across the idea that there are other competitors for “Office” type apps. What is sort of crazy is that there is a very mature product which has been around for a LONG time, runs on a bunch of platforms (all versions of Mac OS, Windows, and Linux) – and it’s free/open-source. It’s called: LibreOffice. To install it, you can run this long command which will install all of the components at once (colored, just to make it easier to read):
$ sudo apt-get install libreoffice-writer libreoffice-calc libreoffice-impress libreoffice-draw libreoffice-base libreoffice-math libreoffice-filter-mobiledev
In reality, there are actually TWO competors: LibreOffice and OpenOffice. They started as one project, but then split. They are both free, and nearly identical. The reason you’d want to side with LibreOffice though is because of the licensing. OpenOffice features an be merged in with LibreOffice in a future release. However, LIbreOffice features (although open source) cannot be merged with OpenOffice. That means LibreOffice has the benefit of their own open source initiative AND the features that the OpenOffice people write too.
So – LibreOffice is the way to go, here vs OpenOffice.
If you want to read the long, sordid details about the history of these two projects, click here.
OK – so after the install, you’ll see some new menu items under Menu –> Office:
In short, here’s a quick description of each:
- LibreOffice – a wizard that let’s you open or create a new document of any type.
- LibreOffice Base – is database app very similar to Microsoft Access. NOT compatible with MS Access for import or export. This has it’s own proprietary .odf file type.
- LibreOffice Calc – is very similar to Microsoft Excel. Is compatible with .xls and .xlsx files for import and export.
- LibreOffice Draw – is somewhat like Microsoft Publisher. It seems to be for laying out flyers, birthday cards, etc. It is NOT compatible with any Microsoft Office formats, it only supports it’s own proprietary file formats or you can export as an image or pdf.
- LibreOffice Impress – is very similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. Is compatible with .ppt and pptx files for import and export.
- LibreOffice Writer – is very similar to Microsoft Word. Is compatible with .doc and .docx files for import and export.
As you can see, this is a pretty full-featured competitor for Microsoft and it’s compatible with Office formats. This is pretty cool! Let’s take a closer look at each, below.
This is simple an entry point which let’s you create or edit any existing files:
This has a lot of the features of modern Microsoft Access. In particular, the Wizards do a great job of creating forms and reports, just like MS Access! The only downside is that this uses it’s own proprietary format and is not interoperable with MS Access, as far as I can tell.
I was pretty surprised at the features here too. It does not have the latest features of Excel 2007 and later (like the expanded Conditional Formatting) – but it does have everything I ever need to use in Excel including regular formulas:
and even the more hardcore formulas, like VLOOKUP:
The fact that this is also compatible with MS Excel file formats is also pretty great. Again, this is a pretty mature product by now and would do everything I would need in a spreadsheet.
I don’t use Microsoft Publisher, but that’s what this seems to be. You can draw things, and format objects – and it’s specifically for a paper layout. So, this would be more for making a flyer or designing your business card.
It took me SEVERAL minutes to figure out how to add text, until I saw the main toolbar is at the BOTTOM of the window:
This is comparable to Microsoft PowerPoint and is compatible with the .ppt and .pptx file formats. It’s somewhat limited in terms of built-in themes and it does have any “SmartObjects” the way modern PowerPoint does. Still, a totally reasonable analog to create good-looking presentations:
Lastly, this is the analog for Microsoft Word. This too, doesn’t have exactly-all of the features of Word, but has 98% of everything you use. In my case, it does 100% of everything I need Word to do. It’s a full-featured word processor:
Again – this is FREE, and you can install it on Windows, Mac OS, or any version of Linux. It’s mostly compatible with all Microsoft Office file types (except where noted above).
Synaptic package manager:
If you are getting sick of typing “sudo apt-get install <package-name>”, there is a window-based app for that. To install it… and you have to type it at least one more time:
$ sudo apt-get install synaptic
then you’ll find this new menu item under Menu –> Preferences – > Synaptic Package Manager:
Launch that you can see that you can search for packages:
or browse, by category:
and you can see all the existing packages – and uninstall, reinstall, or upgrade them:
Again, just remember that we’re talking about a $35 computer and everything listed on this page is free. The Pi is an amazing computing platform. Hopefully this gives you an idea of how it might be used as a regular (albeit low-end) computer. I saw low-end, and it’s not terribly fast – but it’s not unbearably slow either. For me, it “feels” about as fast as my work computer (which I think has a 5400 RPM drive).
Anyhow, so many of my posts on here are about using the Pi for server-type functionality, but it makes for a pretty interesting interactive computer too!