Section 3.5. GNOME Applications

Now that you have a feel for the desktop and how to get around it, let's take a look at some of the applications that are built to go with it. Note that these applications aren't restricted to the GNOME desktop, and they aren't the only applications you can run on the GNOME desktopthey're just built from the same materials and work particularly well together.

3.5.1. Evolution: Mail, Calendar, and Contacts

Evolution is what's known as a groupware suite; it combines email with a calendar and an address book so that communication and scheduling tasks all fall into one convenient package. We don't have room to go into depth regarding all three, but a complete manual is included in the Help menu and is available online at

You can start Evolution by selecting Evolution from your Applications menu, or by typing evolution at the command line. A screen like the one in Figure 3-7 should come up.

Figure 3-7. Evolution on the GNOME desktop

The first time you run Evolution, you'll be asked to create an email account by entering information about yourself and your email access. You can copy this information from your existing mail program, or ask your system administrator or ISP.

Evolution works with standard mail server protocols and can be used in almost any network environment. It lets you leave your mail on the server (if it's running the IMAP protocol), download mail to your local system (if it runs either the IMAP or the POP protocol), or use mail spools on your local system (if you're running your own mail server). In addition, Evolution supports Microsoft Exchange 2000 and later and Novell GroupWise 6.5 and later for mail, calendar, and address functions.

Once you've created an account, you will be presented with the main Evolution window. On the left side of the Evolution window is a shortcut bar, with a list of available tools at the bottom and a list of available sources of data at the top. Click the buttons at the bottom to switch among email, calendar, task list, contacts, and Microsoft Exchange tools.

The following sections describe Evolution's major features. Evolution mail

To start using Evolution mail, click the Inbox button in the shortcut bar. The mail view is divided into two portions: in the top half, a list of messages, and in the bottom half, the display of your selected message. You can change the proportions by dragging the gray bar between them, or hide the message preview area entirely by selecting View Preview Pane or pressing Ctrl - '.

In general, the mail features are fairly simple: click the Send and Receive button to check for new mail and send mail you've queued for later delivery, and click the New Message button to compose a new message.

What distinguishes Evolution from other mail programs are the speed of its searches, the power and simplicity of its filters, and its unique vFolders, a sort of combination of searches and filters.

The search bar is located at the top of the message list. To search your mail, go to any mail folder, select a portion of the message to search (just the message body, the sender, the entire message, and so forth), enter a word into the text box, and press Enter. Evolution pre-indexes your mail, so the results are returned to you faster than with other tools.

Filters add an action to the end of a search: every time you get mail, Evolution performs a search that you specify on the new messages, and then takes actions based on those results. The most common uses of filters are to automatically file messages based on the senders, and to delete messages that are flagged as spam.

To create a filter, go to any mail view and open your list of filters by selecting Tools Filters. Then

  • Click the Add button to add a filter.

  • In the top half of the dialog, select a set of criteria you'll use to pick messages for the filter. For example, if you select Sender Contains in the first drop-down item, and enter in the text box that appears next to it, your filter will act on mail that comes to you from all email addresses.

  • In the bottom half of the window, select one or more actions for your messages. For example, if you select Move to Folder, you'll be offered a button labeled Click to Select Folder. Click that, select a destination folder, and your filter will file all mail from addresses in your GNOME email folder.

  • Click OK in the filter creation box, and OK in the filter list. You're done.

If you find that you need more flexibility than filters offer you, you can use vFolders. A vFolder, or virtual folder, is essentially a complex saved search that looks like a folder. That also means that although an email message can exist only in a single standard folder, you can find it in several vFolders.

When you create a vFolder, you select criteria just as you would for a filter, but instead of choosing what to do with them, you specify where you want to look for these messages. Once you've created a vFolder, it appears in a list of vFolders at the bottom of your folder tree. Then, every time you open it, it searches your mail folders for messages that match the criteria you chose when you created it. So if you create your filters to file mail depending on its sender, you can create a vFolder that holds mail with a given subject, no matter who sent it.

Mail on GroupWise and Exchange servers works in a similar way, with only a few exceptions. On GroupWise servers , event notifications are delivered directly to the Calendar folder rather than to your inbox or to the calendar itself. Once you have accepted a meeting, it appears in your calendar. For Exchange servers, your folder tree contains shared or public folders available to you. To subscribe to shared and public folders, click the Exchange button in the shortcut bar and select Actions Subscribe to Other User's Folder. Evolution calendar

The Evolution calendar allows you great flexibility in creating and viewing your schedule. To get started, click the Calendar button in the shortcut bar. You'll be presented with an empty work-week spread out before you, devoid of appointments. On the left side of the window is a list of available calendars , and on the right side is your calendar view. You can check the boxes next to the calendar names in the shortcut bar to show or hide the events for each calendar. Each set of events is color-coded to prevent confusion, and the overlay helps you reduce clutter when you want to see only one type of event, while allowing you to compare schedules if you need to coordinate or avoid conflicts.

Calendars are listed in several categories: On this Computer, On the Web, Contacts, and, depending on your groupware server, Exchange or GroupWise. When you start, you will have at least two calendars. The first, your default personal calendar, is empty. The second, Birthdays and Anniversaries, shows any dates you have entered into address cards in the contacts tool.

To add a new calendar, select New Calendar and choose the type of calendar you'll be creating: On this Computer or On the Web. The first type of calendar requires only that you pick a name and a color and click OK. For subscription-only web calendars, you'll need to enter that information, plus the URL of the calendar file and the frequency with which Evolution will check for changes as well.

The GroupWise and Contacts calendars are created automatically, and you can have only one of each. To create a new Exchange calendar, use the Exchange tool to subscribe to a calendar folder on the Exchange server.

To show a different range of time in the calendar display, select a range of days in the small calendar in the upper-right side of the window or click one of the prebuilt ranges of days in the toolbar: today, one day, five days, a week, or a month.

Once you have a feel for how to page through your datebook, you'll want to start scheduling events. To schedule an event, click the New Appointment button. Pick which calendar you want it to go in, enter a summary of the event, choose a time, and (optionally) enter a longer description. Note that you can't add events to every calendar: web calendars and your contact calendar, for example, are read-only.

At the lower right, you can select from a list of categories for this event. Events with categories, recurrences, or reminders are displayed with small icons in the calendar view: an alarm clock for reminders, arrows moving in a circle for recurrences, a birthday cake for birthdays, and so forth.

You can also schedule reminders and recurrences. For example, if you have an important meeting next week, you can schedule a reminder to pop up 15 minutes beforehand so that you have time to prepare. Just click the Reminder tab and choose a time and type of reminder, then click Add to add it to the list. Recurrences are similar: click the Recurrence tab, and choose how often you'd like to repeat the event. Is it just this Thursday and next Tuesday? Is it every Wednesday from now until Christmas? Is it a holiday that happens every year? Choose the recurrence rules, click Save and Close, and you've added the event to your calendar.

All that's left is to coordinate this event with other people. Select Actions, and then Forward as iCalendar to create an email message that has the event attached to it. When the recipients receive the message, they can click a single button to add the event to their calendars and send a note to you letting you know whether they'll attend. Evolution contacts

The Evolution contact manager, or address book, is perhaps the least glamorous tool in the suite. However, it is interwoven with the email tools quite thoroughly. You can create contact cards by clicking the New Contact button in the contacts view, but you can also create a card by right-clicking any email address in an email someone has sent you.

If you enter birthday and anniversary information for your contacts, the dates will show up in a special calendar dedicated to your contacts.

If you're looking at your address book for someone's email address, you can right-click his card and have the option to send him a message, or to send his card to someone else, with just two clicks.

To have a look at the contact manager, click the Contacts button in the shortcut bar, or select any contact folder from the folder bar. You'll see a simple list of cards. If you prefer to have your contacts arranged as a phone list, select View, Current View, and then Phone List. You can also choose to display the list by organization rather than just by name.

3.5.2. GNOME and Office Software

GNOME integrates with the OpenOffice suite to allow users a consistent experience for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. OpenOffice has excellent file compatibility with Microsoft Office and offers the vast majority of features necessary for day to day use.

Other options are also available, however. The Gnumeric spreadsheet application handles certain files more capably than OpenOffice does, and has more complex financial calculations, although its graphics capabilities are not as strong. AbiWord is an excellent word processor for most tasks, and simpler than OpenOffice. Both take up far less disk space and run faster, and are suitable for low-resource situations.

For more information about office suites, see Chapter 8.

3.5.3. Movies and Music: Totem and Rhythmbox

The discussion of video and music playback inevitably involves the discussion of licensing. Because the group that defines the MP3 format has patented the encoding and decoding algorithms and requires that every distributor keep track of, and pay for, each copy of MP3 playing or recording software, there are no free, legal MP3 playback or recording devices. Similar license restrictions from the DVD Copy Control Association ( have prevented the development of a free application that will display the DVD movies you can buy in a store.

Unlicensed MP3 and DVD applications are easy enough to build, as anyone with a search engine can find out quickly enough, but they also aren't necessary. You can still record and play music CDs with the free Ogg Vorbis format, and you can still record and play movies stored in MPEG and MOV formatsincluding unencrypted DVDs such as those made by home DVD recorders.

To play those songs, start up Rhythmbox, a music player modeled after features from Apple's iTunes. Rhythmbox will require a few moments to index your music collection before you use it. If it doesn't index your music library immediately, or if it doesn't find all your songs, select Music Import Folder.

Once your files are indexed by the Rhythmbox library, you'll see a strikingly familiar interface: a list of music sources on the left, including Library, Radio, and any playlists you have created. To the right of the music sources is a list of artists and albums you can use to browse your collection, and below that is a list of individual songs that match the artist and album you've selected. You can also search for items in the artist, album, and song title categories in the Search bar at the top.

Select a song and press Play. As you listen, right-click on a song and select Properties. The first tab, Basic, shows you a little information about the track, but the second tab, Details, shows you how often you've played the song, where it's stored, and the exact length; it also lets you rate the song on a scale of 0 to 5. If you don't rate the song yourself, Rhythmbox will guess at ratings based on how often you play a song.

The other major feature in Rhythmbox is its playlists. To create a playlist, select Music Playlist New Playlist. Enter a name for your playlist, and it will appear in your list of available sources. Then, drag songs from the library to the list, and you've got a playlist.

To import a song into Rhythmbox, you must have an application known as Sound Juicer installed, which is often included with Rythmbox, but not always. Select File Import CD to start ripping. Sound Juicer will check the CD title and track listings online with the MusicBrainz service, and ask you to confirm them before it proceeds. It will record in the Ogg Vorbis format unless you specify otherwise by selecting Edit Preferences.

For movie playback, Totem makes things as easy as hitting Ctrl-O to open a file (or Ctrl-L to open a video stream on the Web). Totem provides a very clean interface to the extremely complex world of video encoding algorithms, but it is not always possible to hide from the sometimes bewildering array of file types. Totem supports several video formats by default, including the formats used by most video cameras.

You don't need to mount a DVD or video disc: just press Play. You do, however, need to be sure that the /dev/dvd or /media/dvd device exists on your system.

Tinkerers will note that Totem uses the Xine backend, which is as configurable as Totem is simple. For example, not all QuickTime video subformats (there are several) are supported, but users of most recent x86-based hardware can copy the QuickTime DLLs from a Windows installation into /usr/lib/win32 and access their system's hardware support. In addition, if you have RealPlayer for Linux installed, Totem is able to display the RealVideo format using RealPlayer's own binary codecs. For more information about media playback on Linux, including performance tuning hints, updates to the Xine libraries, and links to other media playback systems, visit

3.5.4. Additional Applications and Resources

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other GNOME applications, from software development tools to games to flowcharting and diagramming tools. The best ways to explore them are to visit the web site and browse the software map or to try installing a few from your update system, whether it's Red Carpet, up2date, apt-get, or YaST.

If you get stuck, there are several places to turn for help. In addition to the Nautilus help system and the web site, try looking for help in chat systems. Developers can be found on in #gnome, so if you have software development questions, go there. A web search on the text of an error message can often turn up the solution to a problem. Searching Google for an error message you've seen can turn up postings to public forums from people who have seen (and hopefully solved) the same error.

Part I: Enjoying and Being Productive on Linux
Part II: System Administration