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Linux Power Tools - Great Tools to Make System Administration Easy

By Amar Jyoti

World War II - Germany decided to attack Poland. Poland had many great warriors. They all prepared to fight the Germans. They were all ready with the best armor, the best and well trained horses, and ofcourse the best weapons , swords , spears .... And the Pols were brave and were ready to give their lives for their country. Sadly they did just that... give their lives. The Germans had tanks... It is very important to have the right weapons when one goes for a war.

In the same way it is very important for system administrators to have the right tools to to work smart. Linux is a great desktop OS for developers as well as system administrators. Let us take a look at some of the utilities which makes this a great environment for system administrators and developers. Most of the content below is taken from the home pages of these apps and the I make no claims on the originality. My aim is to introduce the reader to the wonderful tools that are available in a Linux/BSD desktop environment.


Let`s start from what most people think Linux is all about - a text based shell.  Konsole is what is known as an X terminal emulator, often referred to as a terminal or a shell. It gives you the equivalent of an old-fashioned text screen on your desktop, but one which can easily share the screen with your graphical applications.

What makes Konsole special?  Konsole`s advanced features include simple configuration and the ability to use multiple terminal shells in a single window, making for a less cluttered desktop.  Konsole is also available as kpart and can thus be easily embedded in other applications, like practiced by Kate and Konqueror.

As most system administrators need log into servers on a regular basis the konsole gives them a benefit over the Windoze command prompt. In windows one needs to use a program like putty to log in using SSH. Also as linux is the desktop OS the techs can use the man pages on the local system.

One can also try out the various commands locally. Consider a simple example. 
Is it
$ ln sourcefile destinationfile
or is it
$ ln destinationfile sourcefile

Such things can be easily found out locally without carrying out experiments on the server. Many techs believe that servers are places where they can experiment. However, such experiments can lead to major losses to the customers due to one small error. A system administrator must understand that people have immense faith in them when they give their entire data to them and they cannot risk carrying out simple experiments on servers.

Some screenshots of the konsole can be seen at the konsole site

Personal Information Manager / Groupware

There are two popular choices here. Evolution from Novel and the Kontact from KDE. Both these an  email client, calendaring, meeting scheduling, a task list, contact management and syncing functionality. Kontact is essentially the regular KDE PIM components which have been put in together i.e. kmail, korganizer, knotes etc.. It is very a very neat package and is stable and light.  Both these are very functional and can connect to many groupware servers.


Klipper is the KDE clipboard utility. It stores clipboard history, and allows you to link clipboard contents to application actions. Klipper can perform actions on the contents of the clipboard, based on whether they match a particular regular expression. For example, any clipboard contents starting with “http://” can be passed to the web-browser as URLs to open.

Copying text is as simple as highlighting the text. And to paste the text all one needs to do is click on the center mouse button.  This can be particularly useful for sys-admins as they use a sequence of commands from time to time. Having these in the clipboard and using them often can make the work a lot easier.

Gaim / Kopete

Communicating via an instant messenger is an essential these days. Linux has a very clean solution for this. Both Kopete and Gaim  are capable of handling multiple IM protocols such as  supporting AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber, IRC, Novell GroupWise Messenger, Lotus SameTime. Gaim is a multi-protocol instant messaging (IM) client for Linux, BSD, MacOS X, and Windows. It is compatible with AIM and ICQ (Oscar protocol), MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, SILC, GroupWise Messenger, and Zephyr networks.


KJots is a small program that helps you to write down some short notes and organizes them for you. It has two basic items used to organize your notes - “Books” and “Pages”.  This is a good light tool to write in all the templated responses and other important notes for quick references.


A lovely password manager which can store passwords for all the logins including those of kopete and websites. 

KTea Cooker

KTeaTime is a handy timer for steeping tea. No longer will you have to guess at how long it takes for your tea to be ready. Simply select the type of tea you have, and it will alert you when the tea is ready to drink. Now how can a tea cooker be useful for techs. Often techs get involved in solving a problem and forget to update the client about the progress. Without communicating with the client, on many occasions the entire effort goes down the drain as the client get very agitated thinking that nobody is looking at his problem. What the tech can do is use the tea cooker and get a reminder so that he can respond the client with the progress. 

Koffice/ Open Office

M$ Office is one of the most used software and a major reason why customers do not shift to other operating systems. They need Word and Excel for just about everything. K-Office and Open Office are two great solutions. Open Office can open M$ Office files and can even safe the files in M$ Office format which makes it easy to communicate with those who still use M$ products.


Besides office suites which replicate the windows world products in features, Linux also has some great alternatives. LyX is an example of a great document processor.

What is LyX?
LyX is the first WYSIWYM (What you see is what you mean) document processor.

LyX is what?!
LyX is an advanced open source document processor that encourages an approach to writing based on the structure of your documents, not their appearance. LyX lets you concentrate on writing, leaving details of visual layout to the software. LyX produces high quality, professional output -- using LaTeX, an industrial strength typesetting engine, in the background; LyX is far more than a front-end to LaTeX, however. No knowledge of LaTeX is necessary to use LyX, although it will give a user more power. LyX is stable and fully featured. It has been used for documents as large as a thesis, or as small as a business letter. Despite its simple GUI interface (available in many languages), it supports tables, figures, and hyperlinked cross-references, and has a best-of-breed math editor.


Dia is a great tool for creating diagrams. It has a huge in-built library of objects which are specially useful for software engineers. So making a diagram of a computer network is as easy as dragging a few computers and switches from the list of objects available. It currently has special objects to help draw entity relationship diagrams, UML diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams, and simple circuits. It is also possible to add support for new shapes by writing simple XML files, using a subset of SVG to draw the shape.


An average tech earns a good salary and spends it is well too. To keep track of all these personal expenses the best is to have a great software. Gnucash is an ideal way to manage personal finances. Designed to be easy to use, yet powerful and flexible, GnuCash allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses. As quick and intuitive to use as a checkbook register, it is based on professional accounting principles to ensure balanced books and accurate reports.


And finally a product for all those techs who maintain their servers well and have no work or pending issues and yet have to sit through the nights waiting for some issue to popup.

KTuberling was originally game intended for small children. Of course, it may be suitable for adults who have remained young at heart.  Most techs in general love this software. It is a “potato editor”. That means that you can drag and drop eyes, mouths, mustache, and other parts of face and goodies onto a potato-like guy. Similarly, you have a penguin and an aquarium on which you can drop other stuff.

There is no winner for the game. The only purpose is to make the funniest faces you can.  There is a museum (like a “Madame Tusseau” gallery) where you can find many funny examples of decorated potatoes, penguins and aquariums.


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