The 7 Best Closed-Source Apps for Linux

by Matt Hartley

Linux expert Matt Hartley explains why he's a fan of Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Picasa, Acronis Disk Director Suite, VueScan, Opera and Lotus Notes.

With all of the noise going back and forth about how open source software is "better" for the end user, I am of the mind that this is clearly in the eyes of the beholder. So while there have been tremendous successes on the browser and operating system fronts, I can think of a number of instances where the closed source alternative still outshines the FOSS (free and open source software) alternative.

In this article, I will be exploring specific closed source applications that happen to be compatible with the open source platform known commonly as "desktop Linux" -- that way I'll be distribution neutral.

Adobe Flash

Without question, the single "killer" app that allowed me to migrate successfully. The fact that it is of a close source code nature only adds to the twist of it being so critical to the adoption to the Linux platform for mainstream users.

Adobe Flash these days is a critical part of Web content as we know it. Not because it is mission critical for its users to surf the Web so much as it provides the ability to listen to audio, watch videos, and accomplish other feats that would be done with simplicity on other platforms.

Not having Adobe Flash at all would most definitely be a huge showstopper for most desktop Linux users. Not with the hardcore elite perhaps, but it is critical for most people looking to take desktop Linux seriously.

In the past, even with version 9.x, Flash for Linux has not been without its stability problems. CPU eating performance problems to flat out crashing the web browser -- there is no question that there is room for stability improvements. Luckily, version 10-beta release has shown promise with both CPU usage along with its overall stability in a number of Linux friendly browsers. I have been using it for some time now and have found it to be worth trying. For those who would rather wait for it to come out of beta, Flash 9.x does work well enough once you realize that it is not always perfect.


The thing about Google applications is you either find yourself loving them or hating them. There simply is not a lot of in between room to be had. Picasa is often sought after, as its users found it to be just the perfect fit for their needs in the Windows world. Others out there might be inclined to utilize the powerful F-Spot or KphotoAlbum, Picasa users give on other platforms generally find sticking to the familiar UI and features provides the path of least resistance.

Even for those of you not inclined to give Google Apps a second look, it is worth considering that Picasa does offer extra functionality that might not be found elsewhere including but not limited to access to Google's Web albums, password protecting your online albums and so on.

Acronis Disk Director Suite

Not something that I run myself as my PCs are dedicated Linux, Windows, or OS X (my wife's Mac) only, but Disk Director provides their users with one fantastic boot manager. In the Linux world, some boot loaders are better than others. Most experts will tell you to use Lilo over GRUB. But for the new Linux user, this is still more than they might want to take on -- especially when things go wrong.

So for those individuals bent on dual-booting at all costs, I recommend using the Acronis Disk Director Suite, because it allows the user to add and remove new Linux distributions easily, without a lot of "Googling around" and fighting with the old boot managers. It also means that when you decide to tri-boot Linux, XP, and Vista, you are not rolling the dice in hopes that the tutorial you are reading was not written by someone who clearly has no idea what they are doing.

Some of the more notable options that I like include:

  • Recover broken MBRs
  • Eliminate problem boot managers
  • Boot up operating systems that are presenting startup issues
  • OS cloning with a few clicks of the mouse
Source code licensing aside, this is, by far, one of the best ways to dual-boot a PC that I have used.

Disclosure: The downside is that you do need to use the initial installer from Windows. But once installed, OS management is then OS independent.


Definitely an application that leaves a lot of people wondering why one would not simply use one of the SANE front ends such as Kooka instead? The answer is more or less based on the individual's needs. Most notably, it has been argued that VueScan provides a cleaner scan than you might get with the out-of-the-box FOSS scanning alternatives.

To be honest, I have found the stronger argument to be for those who are simply looking for a simpler-to-use application. The latest release of VueScan is vastly easier to navigate than the often-installed XSane, found with many Linux distributions.

So what makes this different? For most people, the GUI is so simple, than even the "Guide me" option would be seen as being overkill. The application is as simple or advanced as the end user needs. If a scanner is not working with one of the SANE front-end apps, often times you will have better success using VueScan, despite me not being totally positive as to how VueScan handles its own scanner support. Due to the closed source nature of VueScan, determining exactly how it works remains a bit of a mystery.


Not all web browsers are created equal. And without any question, Opera would find itself in the category of a "top browser" based on user enjoyment.

Opera is designed to provide speed and Firefox-like functionality with available add-ons. Opera's biggest claim to fame would have to be its ability to integrate so many options out of the box. Another bonus about having Opera as an alternative to the provided open source browsers is when an update makes Firefox near useless (remember the Firefox 3 beta with Ubuntu), you can fall back on a very stable alternative that works with many distributions, in addition to both 32bit and 64bit architectures.

RSS, simple to use download manager, and widgets galore, it's easy to see why so many people are jumping on board with the Opera browser despite criticism about its closed source nature.

Adobe Reader

This might shock most people, but for many desktop Linux users, the default PDF viewer that comes with most Linux distributions today is simply not cutting it. Yes, it is nice to be able to easily view PDF files without being forced to download the often-bloated alternatives out there, but for some, the bloat is also known as "features."

Enter Adobe Reader for Linux. Closed source, slower that evince and other alternatives, but it does present vastly more effective keyword searching and for those coming off of the Windows platform, a familiar UI that will not leave its users scratching their heads.

Lotus Notes

Despite the fact that installing Lotus applications in Linux is ridiculous in contrast to the open source alternative known as Evolution, visually, Lotus Notes presents a more "modern" feel to many Linux users. It provides a smoother transition for old Outlook users interested in taking the leap into the Linux waters.

Unfortunately, installing this PIM (Personal Information Manager) with distributions such as Ubuntu, could not be more difficult for less savvy Linux users. It can be done, so long as the user is ready to spend some time doing their homework. This translates into extra install headaches that IBM should have foreseen in the first place, in my opinion.

On better-supported, enterprise-grade Linux distributions, the reports are clear that Notes can provide a fairly decent closed source alternative to Outlook. It is just unfortunate that IBM is the vendor, because the company clearly does not grasp software installation on anything other than closed source platforms. This is sad, as their software is actually pretty well done otherwise.

Adapted from Intranetjournal.com.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Sep 10th 2008
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