Top 9 Linux Productivity Tips and Tools

One of the benefits of Linux is its flexibility. You can customize virtually every aspect of the operating system to suit your needs.

In order to assist those new to Ubuntu I’ve compiled a list of tools that will enhance your productivity:

  •   Application/Task Launchers
  •   Keyboard Shortcuts
  •   Clipboard Management
  •   and much more!

Check them out and let me know what your best tip for Linux productivity is.

One of the most powerful features of Bash (the free shell written for the GNU Project) is the use of aliases. Think of aliases as shortcuts — they use shorter commands to execute a longer or series of longer commands. And anything that saves typing time, is always welcome.

For example, if you prefer to use the command line to update and upgrade Ubuntu versus synaptic, you would open a terminal window and type: sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade. That’s quite a bit of typing. Say you only wanted to type the word update to perform the same function. You would edit your ~/.bashrc file and add this line:

alias update=’sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade’

Are there other repetitive tasks that your perform daily, weekly? Give aliases a try. As always, I recommend you make a backup of your .bashrc file before editing.


image courtesy of GNOME Do

To call GNOME Do (also known as Do) a launcher does not fully explain the capabilities of this tool. Through the use of keyboard shortcuts, it can help you perform many common tasks. Do can help you launch an application, search for a file, manage your music player and a host of other things.

Want to open firefox? Simply type “f”. Want to send an email to your favorite editor? Type editor, hit tab, then type email.

Install via synaptic package manager or from the command line:
sudo apt-get install gnome-do

• Launchy

image courtesy of Launchy

Do isn’t the only tool in the launcher space. Launchy is another option, initially a Windows product, it now has a Linux version.

Launchy, like Do, wants to make your application menu obsolete. It launches apps, documents and bookmarks using keyboard combinations. Start Launchy by holding the alt key and hitting the space bar, then typing a few keystrokes.

3. Take Advantage of Docking Systems

• Cairo-Dock

Are you a fan of the Mac Operating system dock? Then you’ll be happy to know that Linux has their own versions. Cairo-Dock is a Mac-like application launcher for the Linux desktop. Populate the launch bar with your favorite apps and applets, then launch them with one mouse-click.

Cairo-dock is available in the Ubuntu repositories.


• Awn

Avant Window Navigator (AWN) is another option, and the one that I use. Like Cairo, it sits at the bottom of your screen and can be used to lauch applications and applets and has extensive plugins to enhance functionality.

Awn is also available in the repositories, just be sure to install all three of these packages:

  • avant-window-navigator-trunk
  • awn-manager-trunk
  • awn-extras-applets-trunk


4. Do More with Clipboard Management

• Klipper

GNOME is the default graphical environment for Ubuntu Linux, but there are other options like KDE. Klipper (hence the K) is an advanced clipboard utility that runs under KDE. It turns basic clipboard functionality on its ear, storing clipboard history, and allowing you to link clipboard contents to application actions.

5. Save Time with On-The-Fly Encryption

TrueCrypt is an open source disk encryption software. Here’s a feature snapshot:

  • Creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk.
  • Real-time Encryption of entire hard disk partition or storage device like USB flash drive.
  • SHA-512 hash algorithm (replacing SHA-1, which is no longer available when creating new volumes)

TrueCrypt is not available in the repositories. You can download it here.

6. Top Linux Keyboad Shortcuts

• Switch to the Next/Previous Workspace

If you’re like me and use workspaces to segment your wok — 1 for writing, 1 for web work, yet another for email and social networking — listen up. You can easily switch between workspaces by pressing the Ctrl + Alt + Left/Right Arrow keys. As you may have guessed, the Left key takes you to the previous workspace while the Right key brings you to the next adjacent.

• Show the Desktop

Ctrl + Alt + D allows you to quickly minimize all windows and bring focus back to your desktop. When all windows are minimized, it works in the reverse, maximizing all windows to their previous state.

• Show Hidden Files

By default, system or hidden files in your home folder aren’t visible, probably to protect us from accidentally deleting them. But occasionally we need to access these files and you can do so by pressing Ctrl + H in the Nautilus file manager.

• Application Specific Shortcuts

A real time saver for me, application shortcuts are plainly visible in the pull-down menus at the top of the application’s screen. For example in Open Office Writer, click on File, and you’ll see that next to Open, the shortcut combination, Ctrl + O

• Launch an Application

Alt + F2 will launch a box where you can type in an application name to launch it.

• Access the Applications Menu

Alt + F1

Check out this page for additional keyboard shortcuts.

7. Switch to the Desktop Post-it Note

• Tomboy Notes

I’m trying to shed the habit of having physical sticky notes plastered on my desk. To help wean me off those addictive yellow pads, I’ve adopted Tomboy. This is a desktop version of the Post-it Note, albeit on steroids. Tomboy allows for highlighting, spell checking, linking, font styles and lists. It comes as a part of the default Ubuntu install.

• Scribes

I have yet to try Scribes, but have read many reviews touting its benefits over Tomboy. Its actually a full text editor, that works with Gnome and offers templates, tabbed input and numbered lines.

8. Resize and Rotate Images in Nautilus

For those that spend quite a bit of time working with images and needing to make quick edits without firing up Gimp or Photoshop, this tool is a must-have. After installation, and rebooting, you will be able to right-click on an image and you’ll see two new image items: resize and rotate.

Install from the command line:

sudo aptitude install nautilus-image-converter

9. Increase Productivity with Project Tracking

Not your typical project management application, Freemind is more of a productivity tool that can help you track projects. Where this tool shines is in its ability to map Internet search links for easy reference. Its also an excellent brainstorming tool.

Other Tips and Tricks

This is just a snapshot of the available tips and tricks. A quick Google search will probably yield even more information. The Ubuntu support website is an excellent resource.

If you are a fan of any of these tools or tricks, chime in. If there are others you’d like to share with the community, I invite you to do so in the comments.

What’s Your Linux Productivity Tip?

Leave a comment with your favorite tip for Linux productivity. What helps you get more done? What’s a great tool that you wouldn’t want to be without?