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Newbies Guide to Debian 7 – Part Three

Getting started with applications on your new Debian system

So here you are with your new Debian system. Now you might be wondering, “Which programs do I use?”

First you might want to get the “minimize, maximize and close” windows-buttons which aren’t default in Debian 7–only the close window-button is there. From the desktop go to Activities menu to the top left and select Programs >System Tools and the “dconf-editor.” There are a lot of menus here to open so look carefully. Click Org >Gnome >Shell >Overrides. To your left you’ll find the “button layout” row. Type “:minimize,maximize,close” without quotation marks and then hit enter.

Evolution screenshot
Evolution–the default email client in Debian
Flash player is a must these days so let’s get that next.

I prefer the terminal for installing. First you need to edit the “sources.list” file by adding two words. In the terminal login as “root/superuser” by typing “su,” then enter the root password. Type “nano /etc/apt/sources.list” and on the first row, that says “deb main,” add after “main,” “contrib non-free” making the row look like this; “deb main contrib non-free”. Then press Ctrl+o to save and Ctrl+x to exit. After that, as you should always do after editing files or adding repositories, type “apt-get update”. Then type “apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree” (without quotation marks) and you will have Adobe Flash.

Add/Remove programs in Debian
Installing IceDove through the user interface in Debian
Usually when editing system files and installing programs you need root/superuser privileges. Always remember to update the system afterwards. Type “exit” to logout from the root/superuser account, which should only be used temporarily for editing/installing and not for normal computer use unless the system asks for it. Also, when installing packages and applications you might sometimes be prompted with the information that the installation requires some more packages. Since the questions comes during the installation process it’s safe to say “Yes.”

IceDove in Debian
The IceDove welcome screen.
In Debian 7 Evolution is the default email application. When you launch Evolution you are greeted by a welcome and setup screen. Just follow the steps and you will be fine. You could also read this guide if you need help: It’s a little bit old but should get you there.

Then there is Thunderbird, which like Firefox has a rebranded and slightly tweaked version in Debian known as IceDove (Firefox is known as IceWeasel). IceDove can be installed either through the terminal by typing “apt-get install icedove” or by going to Activities >Programs >System Tools and “add/remove software.” Search for IceDove and click the little box followed by the “Apply” button in the lower right corner. IceDove is pretty easy to configure. If you have been using Thunderbird in Windows you’ll be fine. Personally I prefer IceDove/Thunderbird for it’s simplicity. It’s easy to setup and use.

GIMP in Debian
The GIMP photo editing tool
Moving on to image/photo processing/editing apps–GIMP is already installed. You access this app, as you do most apps, through “Activities” (top left on the desktop) and “Programs” or just type their name. GIMP is a very strong alternative to Adobe Photoshop and other photo app–and it’s free. It’s maybe a little intimidating at first, but you’ll soon learn it. Help on Gimp can be found at

LibreOffice in Debian
If you have camera and shoot pictures using raw image files, GIMP has a drawback; it won’t open raw files. However, there is darktable for raw files. There’s installation help for darktable at Login as root/superuser then scroll down to the Ubuntu image. In the small box you’ll find installation instructions.

You’ll most likely also be looking for something to replace MS Office as well. LibreOffice is a fantastic office suite that comes already installed in Debian 7. In addition to ODF, it also supports Word and other Microsoft formats for both reading and writing files. There are more alternatives, such as Calligra and Abiword. Abiword can open and save MS Word documents but Calligra can’t. Both LibreOffice and Calligra will allow you to save your document as a PDF file.

Calligra in Debian
The Calligra office suite allows saving as PDF.
When it comes to music there’s Rhythmbox, included by default in Debian, which works fine for listening to music and playing CD’s. Movie Player is also included by default which plays music and movies. Rhythmbox and Movie Player work straight out of the box and the Debian team has included a lot of codecs; I haven’t had any trouble playing any material. When apps works straight-off I usually stick with them. However, you can always install VLC Media Player if you prefer. Just type “apt-get install vlc” as root/superuser in the terminal.

Rhythmbox on Debian
Listen to your favorite tunes on Rhythmbox
If you are using online video services be sure to find out whether they use Flash player or Microsoft’s Silverlight. Flash works fine on Linux but Silverlight services might be a little more tricky. The mono project’s website has the instructions needed to install Moonlight (Silverlight for Linux). If you want to use Netflix you’ll need Moonlight. HBO, on the other hand, uses Flash.

Movie Player on Debian
Ready to sit back and watch a movie? Use Movie Player
Pidgin is an excellent instant messenger app which handles a lot of services such as MSN, ICQ, Yahoo among others. Skype is also available. However, the service was bought by Microsoft some year ago and is one of the apps being used to spy on users so it’s not PRISM free; your privacy is not guaranteed. However, an alternative to Skype is Ekiga. It’s available from the terminal by typing “apt-get install ekiga” as root/superuser. I suggest you visit the site first and read up on it as they also offer regular telephone service.

Pidgin on Debian
Pidgin–an excellent free and open source instant messaging client
Debian 7 comes with an easy to use file manager. If you’re coming from Windows you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating. Your hard drives and DVD drives are still available on the menu on the left side. One thing I like is that when browsing images I get small thumbnail pictures of them.

My favorite file manager is Gnome Commander which offers two side-by-side windows, making it excellent for copying or moving files. If you use FTP or other network functions and work with files often, this would be an excellent choice for you.

Use Ekiga instead of Skype--and get your Windows friends to use it too!
Use Ekiga instead of Skype–and get your Windows friends to use it too!
There are many more apps available for Debian to fill many different needs and purposes. Should you find something missing here that you need or if you just want to ask about something concerning Debian or Linux, you can always send me an email at gfridell at and I will do my best to answer your question.

Searching the Internet for help is also a great tool. Just start your search by typing “How to” followed by your question and ending with “Debian 7” and you’re most likely to find an answer.

GNOME Commander on Debian
GNOME Commander is an alternative file manager
Debian file manager
Debian’s default file manager


  1. david david September 23, 2013

    This site is called “FossForce – keeping tech free”.

    So why are you advising people to add software to Debian that makes it no longer free?

  2. Gustav Gustav September 24, 2013

    I’m thinking that new users comming from Windows amongst others would read this.
    That’s why i have included Flash player. Tons of sites use it and i wish they would switch to html5.
    Alot of folks also streams alot of media such as tv channels which do require proprietary drivers.
    Hope this answers your question.


  3. david david September 24, 2013

    I know what you mean.
    However, the truth is that there is no argument in support of proprietary software that doesn’t essentially say “I don’t care about freedom, privacy or security”.
    So, whilst I concede that much functionality is lost if some proprietary plugins and drivers are absent, there must be a proper explanation of what the addition of such code means and what the user can expect without it and why.

    The use of proprietary code will never be defeated if users are not told what it means in terms of loss of security and potentially, privacy as well. If they’re not told why open source code is vastly superior how can they make an informed decision about their own computers?

    You say “these days flash is a must”. It isn’t. In the first place some sites work without it (Apple hand held devices don’t use flash and they seem to get on reasonably well). Youtube works without flash. BBC radio streams can be accessed without flash (though not the iplayer). Much of the content that uses flash is mindless – horrible adverts, stupid games, videos of people falling off skateboards and the like. This is not content, this is frivolous rubbish.

    Without informing people of the truth they cannot be expected to either make a decision for themselves or go on to apply pressure to Corporations to change their habits. Thus, by doing this you are letting people down and corrupting open source software, which was a movement started to offer a clean alternative to proprietary and thus Corporately controlled code. Open Source was not started so people could have a free version of Windows.

  4. Gustav Gustav September 24, 2013

    Please drop me an email at gfridell at fossforce dot com and we can discuss this further 🙂

  5. david david October 4, 2013

    I’ve emailed you at the address you provided.
    Why haven’t you replied?
    From where I’m standing it’s hard not take this as a cheap attempt at shutting me up.
    Maybe you have some valid reasion for not replying.
    If not you are a fraud.

Comments are closed.

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