Open Source Musings

Sharing a passion for Linux and open source, with a decidedly non-techie slant

A good utility is worth it's weight in ... well, whatever you use to weigh something valuable. And while you might not use certain utilities often, when you do I can bet that you're happy those applications are installed on your computer.

Let's take a quick look at three utilities for the Linux desktop that I find quite useful. Who knows, you might find them useful too.


(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at and appears here via a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.)

In 2016, I took down the shingle of my technology coaching business. Permanently. Or so I thought.

Over the last year or three, more than a few friends and acquaintances have pulled me back (in small ways) into the realm of coaching. How? With their desire to dump That Other Operating SystemTM and move to Linux.

This has been an interesting experience, in no small part because most of the people aren't at all technical. They know how to use a computer to do what they need to do. And they're interested in using Linux. Beyond that, they're not interested in delving deeper. They're not interested in becoming experts.

While bringing them to the Linux side of the computing world, I learned a few things about helping non-techies move to Linux. If someone asks you to help them make the jump to Linux, these eight tips can help you.


For the longest time, my favourite tool for manipulating PDF files was pdftk. It's billed as a simple tool for doing everyday things with PDF documents and, believe me, pdftk lives up to that billing.

While I don't use it any longer, I still think pdftk is a great tool and that it can be very useful. But it's a bit too much for my needs at the moment.

So what do I use when I need to fiddle with PDF files? The tool that I turn to most often is PDF Tricks. While limited in what it does, PDF Tricks does that very well. Let's take a look at it.


It's been fascinating, and at times scary, to watch how much of our computing has moved into the so-called cloud. Everything from spreadsheets to word processors, note taking tools and todo list managers, even our music now lives on someone else's computer.

What's so scary about all that? It can be a privacy nightmare, and we don't know what the people behind those online apps are doing with our personal information.

Open source makes it possible to find alternatives to many of those applications, to gain more control of your data, of what you use and how you use it. All that's possible through the miracle and magic of self hosting

Notice that I used the word possible a pair of times in the last paragraph. Not easy or even easier, but possible. Despite what what some people say, and more than a few have said it to me, self hosting open source web apps isn't all that easy.


(Note: This post was first published, in a different form, at and appears here via a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.)

For me, a word processor isn't the best way to write and publish an ebook. It's just a bit too cumbersome for my taste. Having said that, for many people using a word processor is the fastest, easiest, and most familiar option for writing a book.

Firing up your favourite word processor and typing isn't enough, though. You need to, and should, follow a format. That's where a template comes in. A template ensures that your book has a consistent look and feel.

Creating a template isn't difficult and doesn't take too much time. That time and effort, though, can give you a better-looking book.

I'm going to walk you through creating a simple template for writing individual chapters of an ebook using LibreOffice Writer. You can use this template for books in PDF and EPUB formats, and modify it to suit your needs.


Ah, the mouse ... It made computing so much easier for so many people. Why memorize a bunch of arcane commands when you can point and click?

There are times, though, when a mouse just gets in your way.

Some people, believe it or not, work better with just their keyboards. Using combinations of keystrokes and navigation keys makes them more efficient and more productive, even in a graphical environment.

One task that lends itself quite well to being keyboard driven is note taking. Let's take a quick look at two note taking applications for the Linux desktop that work better with just a keyboard.


(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at and appears here via a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.)

Imagine, for a moment, you've been tapped to give a presentation. As you're preparing your talk, you think, I should whip up a few slides. So how are you going to do that, young presenter?

Maybe you prefer the simplicity of plain text, or maybe you think software like LibreOffice Impress is overkill for what you need to do. Or perhaps you just want to embrace your inner geek.

It's easy to turn files formatted with Markdown into attractive presentation slides. Here are four tools that can do help you do the job.


When I switched to elementary OS in late 2020, I decided that my commitment to it would include trying to use as many applications coded specifically for the distribution as possible. So far, I've succeeded. While I do use some so-called standard open source applications, much of what I use on my desktop is curated for elementary OS in its AppCenter.

Let's spend the next few hundred words looking at three of those applications. I might not use them all of the time, but they definitely come in handy when I need them.


Mindmapping can be a very powerful creativity technique. A mindmap lets you visualize your ideas and how they fit together, and can unblock a mental log jam.

I usually pull together mindmaps on paper. But when I don't want to kill trees and waste ink, or don't have pen and paper handy, I turn to Minder.


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