Linux for writers

I tried to google for a linux setup used by writers, to find some inspiration on how to set up my work environment. The results I got from my search was quite disappointing. A few results on how to install linux, and a few about which apps to use that didn’t even mention the good ones. So now I’m writing down my own preferences, in case someone else wants to be inspired and stumbles onto this page.

How to install linux

What is linux? Most people buy a computer and just start using it. They never consider that there may be better ways of using the computer than the person who sold it to you had in mind. Think about it like this; let’s say that there were only two car manufacturers in the world. One of the car manufacturers is Ford and the other one is Honda. Most people would just choose between the reliable and high-tech Honda or the easy to repair and cheaper Ford. But regardless of what model you pick, what if there was a custom workshop where you could park your car for a night and next day take it out fully customized for what you want or need? Professional drivers would all have a custom, of that you can be sure. You can also be sure that Honda and Ford both would do what they can to keep custom cars from becoming popular, because competition is never good. Linux is the custom workshop for computers, and it’s all free (except for all the time you spend defining your customizations).

Linux is actually just the operating system. The operating system of Microsoft Windows is DOS, and you only ever see it if you open up the command prompt. Apple MacOS or OSX or whatever they call it these days is a Unix-derivative, similar to linux. Most people never realize that there is an operating system – you are interested in software, or apps, not how they function. On Windows you only have one setup, and at most you may be able to change the color scheme or desktop wallpaper. MacOS is similar in that regard, you don’t have a lot of options. After you install linux, there are lots of options to choose from. If you want your computer screen to look like a Windows environment, you install KDE-plasma desktop. If you want your screen to be more similar to MacOS, then you install Gnome. But there are several other desktop environments that are more or less in between those two options. And this is just the beginning of all the choices you can make; there are tons of different web browsers, file managers, office apps, &c. Since most people want kind of similar setups, all of these choices are bundled in so called distributions. So the first thing you should do is select which distribution to use.

If you want to choose every single thing, then you should go with the Linux-from-scratch distribution, or Gentoo, or Funtoo. You will spend a lot of time reading about all the different software components and how they interact, make a lot of mistakes, and learn from it. In the end of a very long process, you will have a computer screen entirely defined by yourself according to your own preferences, and if you make the right choices it will be the fastest computer you can have within your hardware limitations.

If you just want the easiest thing to start out with as a beginner, and then learn something about how to customize it every now and then, you should choose the Ubuntu distribution (with Gnome which looks like MacOS) or Kubuntu (with KDE-plasma which looks like Windows).

My own preference is to install ubuntu server, which just gives me a functioning computer with a terminal (or command prompt). If I’m on a fairly new computer I then install the KDE-plasma desktop windows-environment like this:

sudo apt install kde-plasma-desktop

If I’m on an older computer that runs slowly with less resources, or for example a Raspberry Pi, then I instead install the LxQt desktop environment like this:

sudo apt install lubuntu-desktop

After that you just restart the computer and login with your username and password. You will then have a package manager or software center or similar where you can install apps. Or you can open a terminal and type the “sudo apt install XXX” where XXX is the name of the software you want to install. If you don’t know the name exactly, you can try to type the first few letters and then press tab once. If there is only one package that matches those letters in the beginning of the name, the terminal will finish typing the name correctly for you. If there are many packages that match the name you can press tab again (twice total) and get a list of all the matches. For example, if I type in the terminal “sudo apt install lubu” and then press tab, the terminal will change the text to “sudo apt install lubuntu-“. The hyphen at the end give me a hint that there are many packages with this name (the hyphen is not always there) so I press tab again and get a list of seven software packages and their names. Finish typing any one of those names to install that software package after you press enter. Or go the easy route and find the software center (on KDE it’s called Discover and looks like a shopping bag icon in the menu).

What software to install

Now this was meant to be for writers. The first writer-related software I install is Falkon, which is a really fast internet browser. After installing Falkon I change the search engine from the default (Duck-duck-go which sucks) to Google.

After Falkon, I install Thunderbird to handle my e-mail. Since I have used Thunderbird for many years, I export my profile with all my old mail from my previous computer (or from my backup if my previous computer is broken) and import it into Thunderbird. Otherwise you will need to setup all your e-mail accounts and other settings.

QGIS is next for me. I use maps in a variety of ways, but as a writer you can for example put layers for your characters to keep track of where they are in the world at what time. If you are working with Game-of-Thrones-like complexity of lots of characters and their whereabouts QGIS certainly makes it easier to check up on who is where in the world. Of course, if your world is not our real world you can’t start with OpenStreetMap as a background so you would have to start by drawing out all your geography first.

LibreOffice is very useful, even if I don’t use it much for writing. It will open word documents, excel sheets, and powerpoint presentations, or let you create such things. Obviously, you can just use LibreOffice Writer for your writing, but then you might as well use Google Documents online or something such.

Since I have my own Nextcloud server, I install the Nextcloud desktop software. This automatically creates backups of all my files as soon as I change something, even if it is as simple of adding a single word and then saving the document.

For my actual writing, I install TeXstudio. This also needs texlive and xetex. Setting up TeXstudio is a bit tricky, and I also have my own classes for the documents I produce (scientific articles, books, letters, &c) and writing those classes takes some time to do. Classes are kind of the same as templates in Word or LibreOffice Writer, but much more powerful. Writing text in TeXstudio is just like using Notepad or KWrite. It’s not formatted while you type, and you have to insert commands to make bold text or chapter headings. When you press F5 to compile your text, it produces a PDF-document which looks perfect and much nicer than what you can do with other word processors.

Gramps is a geneaology software to build your family tree, but can also obviously be used by writers to keep track of fictional family trees and relationships.

Other software to install

Darktable is nice for keeping track of photos and pictures. Krita and Gimp are nice for creating pictures, or Inkscape for vector images. If you want to go advanced with 3D or making your own movies then Blender is the best option. For movie editin Kdenlive is nice. There are many other options that you can find in the software center, but these are my favourites.

I usually install Steam, because it is nice to blow off some steam sometimes with a game. Cities: Skylines is my first choice for a game, but I also play with Prison Architect or RimWorld sometimes, or the occasional Crusader Kings. Trine is good with friends, or Don’t Starve Together. If you are a procrastinator, don’t bother with games because you will never get anything real done. If you don’t have Steam but want some simple relaxation, 0 AD, SuperTux, or KPat are good enough to make you forget the real world for a while.

HomeBank is one of my essentials to keep track of my finances. Again, there are many other options, but I have found HomeBank to work best for my circumstances.

Stellarium is nice, if you have a moment to enjoy the night sky and want to find out what is what up there.

WingIDE is my choice for python development. You may also want PostgreSQL with PostGIS so you can save your data from QGIS in a better way, but I put those on a separate server myself. Or install R if you want to run statistics on your data (with RKward as a GUI).

Audacious or SMplayer for listening to music, or LMMS for making your own music. OBS studio for making content to YouTube or similar services.

Then what?

Start writing. Or procrastinate and spend an infinite amount of time fine-tuning your system and trying out all the apps to find your own favourites. Did I mention all of this is available free of charge? Yes, well, that also makes it very expensive in terms of time since there is nothing stopping you from trying out all of it. Better to ignore the software center once you have your essentials, and just do some work.

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