Android app support for Chrome OS has been available for a while. But while you can install the majority of them on any Chromebook, only a handful are properly compatible with the operating system. If an app is updated for Chromebooks, it will be much more reliable and support Chrome OS’ built-in multitasking tools. Therefore, here are the best third party apps you should install on your Chromebook. 1. Netflix Netflix was one of the first apps to be updated for Chromebooks. While you can obviously stream from the Chrome browser too, there are a few benefits of downloading the…
Android app support for Chrome OS has been available for a while. But while you can install the majority of them on any Chromebook, only a handful are properly compatible with the operating system.
If an app is updated for Chromebooks, it will be much more reliable and support Chrome OS’ built-in multitasking tools. Therefore, here are the best third party apps you should install on your Chromebook.
Netflix was one of the first apps to be updated for Chromebooks. While you can obviously stream from the Chrome browser too, there are a few benefits of downloading the dedicated app. The biggest of all is that you can download content for offline consumption which is perfect for scenarios like when you’re about to board a flight.
Plus, if you have a lower-end Chromebook, streaming on the mobile app is a significantly better experience than doing it from a Chrome tab. This is especially the case for HD videos.
If you’re not comfortable with Google’s suite of productivity apps and want a more advanced platform, try Microsoft’s alternative. All the apps under Microsoft’s Office lineup for Android including OneNote, Word, PowerPoint, and Skype can work with Chromebooks. You have access to nearly every essential feature such as editing documents, templates, cloud sync, and more.
What’s more, they can be operated in multi-window modes. However, unless you have a Chromebook with a screen size less than 10.1-inches, Microsoft Office is not free. You will need an Office 365 subscription to unlock the ability to create, edit, or print documents.
Adobe’s host of creative apps have been re-engineered to be compatible with Chrome OS as well. Whether you want to edit pictures or PDF documents or sketch, Adobe’s apps are the place to be.
From Lightroom CC to Acrobat Reader, Chromebooks are now compatible with most of Adobe’s major titles. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that these are still Android apps, not their full-fledged desktop counterparts. However, all of them are free unless you want to employ any of the premium features.
While Google now preloads its own note-taking app on touchscreen-equipped Chromebooks, you can also give Evernote a shot. For Chromebooks, its mobile app offers a special tablet interface so that you can utilize the entire screen real estate.
In the landscape orientation, the app also automatically shifts to a sleek, tabular UI — ideal for those lengthy research sessions. Furthermore, you can create shortcuts for particular notes for getting into them right from the app launcher. There are doodling options too if you own a stylus and want to jot down handwritten notes.
Chrome OS’ pre-installed local video player is rather limited both in terms of performance and capabilities. To overcome that, we recommend taking a look at VLC’s mobile app. It offers all the tools you would need to play any kind of clip on your Chromebook.
On top of that, you can play videos in a movable window if you’d like to watch it while working on another app. In the touchscreen mode, a bunch of gestures are available allowing you to quickly perform an action like skipping ten seconds ahead.
Slack’s mobile app is compatible with Chrome OS too and features a two-column layout similar to the desktop client. It functions flawlessly if you’re using the Chromebook as a tablet and can be placed in the multi-window mode.
One of the best task management apps, TickTick has been tweaked to properly support Chrome OS as well. That means whether you’re planning your day in the portrait or landscape orientation, you won’t encounter any delays or odd behaviors. Even advanced features like the Pomo Timer work as intended. There are a multitude of other reasons to try TickTick if you haven’t already yet.
While Chromebooks are not primarily built for video editing, there are a few ways non-pro users can do it. One of those is with GoPro’s free Quik app.
GoPro’s full-fledged video-editing app comes with a ton of features that cater to both amateurs and professionals. You can either decide to let the app build stories from your media for you, or pick the effects, transitions and other aspects yourself.
In addition, GoPro Quik even has advanced video editing tools such as managing frame layouts, captions for each moment, color-grading, and more. Even if you want to quickly generate an edited video, GoPro Quik won’t disappoint with its wide range of themes.
Android’s premier podcast streaming app is optimized for Chromebooks as well. When fired up in landscape mode, you’re greeted with a dense homescreen of album arts from featured podcasts. Like others, it sports a two-tab layout with links to other sections situated on the left. Unfortunately, Pocket Casts is not free and charges an upfront fee of $3.99.
If you’re an artist, Autodesk’s SketchBook app is a must-have for your Chromebook. It has a ton of features whether you’re casually sketching or painting your next masterpiece. The app is compatible with styluses and can even detect pressure. Therefore, you can press harder for a darker gradient and vice versa. SketchBook is also entirely free.
Squid is the best mobile app for handwritten notes and the company has partnered with Google to bring low-latency ink to a few Chromebooks. The app lets you choose from a wide selection of backgrounds like college-ruled, graphs, and more. Plus, you have the ability to import documents and scribble over them for purposes such as signing.
Whether it’s editing videos or signing documents, there’s now an app for your Chromebook. Since it’s a desktop operating system, you also have a bunch of abilities to multitask between them. And to do that, you will need to familiarize yourself with these eight tips for multitasking like a pro on Chrome OS.
Microsoft Exchange support exists on Linux, but it generally isn’t pretty. You can take this both literally and figuratively. You can add Microsoft Exchange support to Thunderbird with plugins but it isn’t intuitive, and while Evolution supports Microsoft Exchange, that app isn’t always user-friendly. Hiri is a cross-platform app that succeeds in making Microsoft Exchange emails, contacts, calendars, and tasks both easy and enjoyable to use on Linux. Here’s why Hiri is the best Linux Exchange client and how to get started with it. What Does Hiri Offer? One of the main focuses of Hiri seems to be ease of…
Microsoft Exchange support exists on Linux, but it generally isn’t pretty. You can take this both literally and figuratively. You can add Microsoft Exchange support to Thunderbird with plugins but it isn’t intuitive, and while Evolution supports Microsoft Exchange, that app isn’t always user-friendly.
Hiri is a cross-platform app that succeeds in making Microsoft Exchange emails, contacts, calendars, and tasks both easy and enjoyable to use on Linux. Here’s why Hiri is the best Linux Exchange client and how to get started with it.
What Does Hiri Offer?
One of the main focuses of Hiri seems to be ease of use. This, combined with the design, which uses plenty of whitespace to keep things from looking cluttered, makes using the app a pleasant experience.
Hiri is opinionated about its design, which may or may not appeal to you. For example, the width of the center pane will always be the same regardless of the size of your monitor or the width of your window. The Hiri website says this is because the optimal length of a sentence is roughly 96 characters.
Both Hiri’s look and functionality are customizable with what it calls Skills. These are bits and pieces of functionality that you can enable and disable at will to add and remove features. The Dashboard Skill, for example, will remind you not to check your email too often. We’ll explore more of these Skills later in this article.
How Much Does Hiri Cost?
Unlike a lot of apps available for Linux, Hiri is not free software in either sense of the term. It is not free in that is not open source, nor is it available free of charge.
Hiri’s pricing structure is somewhat unusual as well. The app is not an outright purchase but instead uses a subscription model. Hiri is available for $39 per year, but also currently offers a lifetime license for $119. That seems simple enough, but when you buy the app also affects how much you’ll pay for it.
When you first install Hiri, you’ll immediately begin the free seven-day trial that the company offers. If you wait until the end of this period to subscribe, you’ll pay the price listed above. For each day earlier that you pay for the software, you’ll pay a little less.
If you pay on the first day, the annual subscription only costs $20, rather than the full $80. The price goes up each day until eventually it reaches the standard price. This is an unusual strategy, but if you install Hiri and love it immediately, paying right away can save you a little money.
Installing and Configuring Hiri
Because it’s proprietary and paid software, you won’t find Hiri in the software repositories of many Linux distributions. The Hiri team doesn’t create DEB or RPM packages either. Instead, they have offered to use the Snap format favored by Ubuntu.
This means that installing the software is very easy for most users. If you’re using Ubuntu, you can find Hiri in the Ubuntu Software app. For other distributions, as long as you have Snap installed, you can type the following to install Hiri:
sudo snap install hiri
If you can’t or don’t want to install Hiri via Snap, installation is still fairly simple. Head to the Hiri download page and click on the Linux option. Now open up your terminal and change to the directory that you downloaded Hiri to.
Next extract the archive file:
tar xf Hiri.tar.gz
Finally, move into the newly extracted folder and launch the app:
Adding Your Email Accounts
Once you launch the app, you’ll be prompted to enter the details for the accounts you want to use with Hiri. Enter your email address and then you’ll be prompted for your password. If your account uses two-factor authentication, you’ll need to create an app password to use with Hiri.
One thing to know before you start is that right now Hiri only supports the Microsoft email ecosystem. This means Exchange accounts, as well as outlook.com, hotmail.com, and live.com email addresses.
Right now, there is no support for other formats like IMAP, though the Hiri team has said that the company does plan to add this feature sometime in the future.
How to Use Hiri
How easy Hiri is to use depends on how much of a Microsoft Outlook power user you are. It’s actually going to be easier if you aren’t an Outlook master.
As an example, some keyboard shortcuts are the same as those found in Outlook, but not all of them. You can press Ctrl + R to reply to a message, but you’ll need to press Ctrl + N to create a new email instead of Ctrl + Shift + N as you would in Outlook.
Hiri is very much its own app, and if you think of it this way you’ll adapt to it quickly. If you’re frequently switching between Hiri and Outlook though, you’ll need to memorize two sets of keyboard shortcuts.
Choosing and Using Hiri Skills
A big part of using Hiri comes down to its Skills. To choose the Skills you want to use, head to the Skills Center by clicking the lightning bolt icon on the left sidebar.
If you want to narrow down email to just what you need to act on, you’ll want to enable the Action/FYI Skill. This separates email into two categories: Actionable is email that you need to do something with, while FYI is for all those unnecessary cc’d emails as well as any emails that are just informational.
The Task List Skill puts a Tasks pane at the side of your inbox, similar to the To-Do Bar in Outlook. This lets you see your tasks easily, while dragging an email into this box creates a new task.
The Reminders Skill adds a reminder icon to the Email Action Bar. This is similar to the Snooze functionality found in some other email clients, taking the email out of your inbox until a later date.
The Dashboard Skill, as mentioned above, is meant to save you from yourself when it comes to checking email. After 90 seconds of inactivity, a popup will launch, reminding you not to check your email too much.
There are a few other skills to help you write better subject lines, delegate emails, and get your inbox to zero. A new Skill is on the way as well that will let your rate emails. All of these are worth exploring to customize your email experience.
Looking for a Free Email Client Instead of Hiri?
For the most part, email is something a lot of people have grown used to using for free, and this extends to email clients. If you’re looking for another email app, either because you don’t want to spend the money or because you need IMAP support, you’ve got plenty of options.
Fortunately, you don’t need to waste time looking around. Check our list of the best email clients on Linux to find what you’re looking for.
Thinking about trying Linux? There are so many Linux operating systems (called “distributions” or “distros”), and each offers different benefits.
With so many options available, it can be difficult to choose. What’s the best lightweight Linux operating system? What about a Linux distro for gaming? What if you just want one that’s pretty like macOS?
This curated list features only Linux distros that have seen significant activity (update or maintenance) throughout 2018 and 2019. We only recommend Linux distros that are safe to use and regularly updated with security patches.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a commercial derivative of Fedora, designed with enterprise customers in mind. There are several variants and addons, and certification is available for both administrators and applications.
Various editions of SparkyLinux are available, but this game-focused one is probably the most useful. With an LXDE desktop and a host of preinstalled games, you’ll find Steam, PlayOnLinux, and Wine preinstalled.
That’s a vast library of free and premium games at your fingertips!
Ubuntu is Debian-based and ships with GNOME as the default desktop environment. One of the most popular Linux operating systems around, Ubuntu improves with every release. The latest releases are designed for desktops, laptops, and hybrids. In short, if you’re switching from Windows or macOS, Ubuntu is probably the first OS you’ll try.
The openSUSE distribution is a general distro for Linux built by the openSUSE Project. It aims to be both a great beginner distro and something that appeals to experienced Linux users. openSUSE comes with YaST, an administration program that controls installations, package management, and more.
Fedora, sponsored by the IBM-owned Red Hat uses the GNOME desktop environment by default. Users can easily switch to KDE, Xfce, LXDE, MATE, and Cinnamon, among others. Custom variations of Fedora, known as Fedora spins, are available for users with specific requirements.
Debian is a long-established Linux distribution that comes with the GNOME desktop environment. However, it’s also available with the FreeBSD kernel, and work is in progress to support other kernels such as the Hurd.
Many other notable Linux distros are based on Debian. These include Ubuntu and Raspbian.
Slackware is a distro built specifically for security and simplicity, aiming to be the most UNIX-like Linux distribution. It’s particularly useful for server management, as it has FTP, email, and web servers available to use immediately.
Have you ever tried UNIX or managed a server? If not, try Slackware as a live disc (or as a virtual machine) to get to grips with it.
You can adapt Gentoo Linux to almost any requirement. Its versatility and performance are what make it one of the best Linux operating systems. Gentoo Linux also comes with an advanced package management system called Portage.
While this adaptability can cause problems for newcomers, Gentoo offers complete control of your computer.
Based on Ubuntu LTS releases, Linux Lite is a minimal-footprint distro with a clean and simple Xfce desktop. It adopts a Windows-style Start menu, helping any Windows refugee feel right at home.
Linux Lite’s small resource footprint means that you can install it on a PC with a 700 MHz CPU and just 512MB of RAM. That’s what we call light! This makes it one of the best Linux distros for old computers or users looking to maximize laptop battery life.
Lubuntu is a lightweight distro based on Ubuntu that’s perfect for laptop usage. It uses the minimal desktop LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) and comes with lightweight applications designed for energy-efficiency and speed.
It’s great for most older computers, netbooks and mobile devices as it uses minimal RAM and has low system requirements.
If you’re looking for the best Linux operating system for laptop battery life, Lubuntu is a definite contender.
This is a fantastically small distribution that can be run entirely from RAM. This means Puppy Linux is great for older computers, even those without hard drives! It is also easy to use for malware removal.
Manjaro Linux is a fast, easy-to-use, lightweight distribution based on Arch Linux. It aims to give all the benefits of Arch Linux with more user-friendliness and accessibility, making it easier on newcomers. The Xfce desktop is the default, but other options are available.
Want to customize your Linux system? NuTyX is for you! Shipping barebones and bloatware-free, NuTyX lets you customize using the collection concept, where you’ll find a choice for everything you want to use. For example, you’ll find a selection of desktop environments or window managers to choose from.
The result is a user-determined Linux operating system with endless possibilities. It might be a versatile desktop, or a focused home theater.
This Ubuntu-based distribution comes with the lightweight and beautiful Enlightenment desktop. Bodhi is extremely customizable, with themes and apps readily available to expand on the light beginnings.
Save time installing artistic tools and applications to Fedora by simply installing this spin from the Fedora artistic design team. You’ll find tools like Inkscape and GIMP are among those preinstalled in this art-, illustration-, and DTP-focused distro.
First released in 2007, Ubuntu Studio is probably the default choice for Linux users with creative talents. With the inclusion of the Xfce desktop environment and low kernel latency, everything is geared towards media production.
While many other distros will serve you well, Ubuntu Studio might just be the best Linux distro for designers, music producers, photographers, and other creative users.
All the creative distros listed here offer a good mix of tools, and while KXStudio is no different, it focuses on audio production. Throw in the KDE desktop and you have a digital studio capable of considerable performance.
If you’re new to Linux and want to keep things simple, Endless OS might be the distro you’re looking for.
Intended for family use, Endless OS comes with 100 apps preinstalled, ideal if your system doesn’t have an internet connection. It’s also useful if you don’t know what Linux apps you need.
This prescribed approach might not be ideal for seasoned Linux users. However, if you’re coming to open source operating systems green, this is very useful. See our overview of Endless OS for more information about this simple operating system.
Linux Mint is an elegant, modern distro that is easy to use, yet powerful. Based on Ubuntu, Linux Mint is reliable and comes with one of the best software managers.
Mint has been the top-rated Linux operating system on DistroWatch since 2011, with many Windows and macOS refugees choosing it as their new desktop home.
Mint comes with a wide range of desktop options. You can have the default Cinnamon desktop, or with MATE, KDE, or Xfce (XForms Common Environment). Linux Mint Debian Edition, aimed at experienced Linux users, is also available.
This Ubuntu-based distro, packaged with the stylish Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE), is intended to appeal to newer Linux users. Simple and intuitive and featuring a great system settings panel displays, Deepin is clearly inspired by Apple’s macOS desktop.
Deepin also features an easy-to-use software center that’s far superior to similar tools in other distros. These factors make it one of the best Linux operating systems for migrating Mac users.
Pop!_OS is Linux hardware manufacturer System76 Ubuntu-based default operating system complete with the GNOME desktop. Offering its own desktop theme, the blue, brown and orange interface matches the System76 brand identity.
With its own app installation browser (Pop!_Shop), you’ll find it easy to install your preferred Linux apps on Pop!_OS. Although some apps don’t quite match the theme, this is an exciting Linux operating system. Bonus points go to System76 for producing a separate version for devices with Nvidia graphics.
Zorin OS is another distro designed specifically for Linux newcomers to ease the transition from other platforms. The Ubuntu-based distro features several apps that will be familiar to Windows users and makes it easy for users to run the Windows apps they still need.
The Zorin OS desktop can be configured to resemble Windows, macOS, or even Linux.
Yet another Ubuntu-based distro, Elementary OS has differentiated itself superbly since its emergence in 2013. It features beautiful, simple default apps that follow the OS’s aesthetic appeal, such as Mail for email, and the Epiphany web browser.
Elementary OS also features several useful Linux productivity apps. If you want something that evokes the look and feel of macOS, Elementary OS is a Linux operating system you should try.
One of the big problems of switching to Linux from Windows is the lack of app compatibility.
Several distros deal with this issue, but RoboLinux offers a better solution: an easy to set up Windows virtual machine. Windows XP and later can be set up in RoboLinux, avoiding the need to dual boot. This potentially gives you access to your favorite Windows applications whenever you need them.
Ubuntu has many derivatives. One popular option is Kubuntu, which uses the more traditional KDE desktop environment. Beneath this, it is essentially the same as Ubuntu and is released on the same schedule.
Raspberry Pi Linux Distros
The Raspberry Pi is a popular Linux machine, but the distros seen elsewhere in this list probably won’t work. This is due to the Pi using an ARM processor rather than an Intel or AMD 32-bit or 64-bit CPU.
As such, specialist distros have been developed for the Pi. Some of these are Pi-friendly versions of existing Linux operating systems, like those listed below. For more distros, see our list of operating systems for the Raspberry Pi.
Running a project that requires a bare bones operating system? The answer is DietPi, an ultra-lightweight Debian-based OS for all models of the Raspberry Pi. It’s also available for several other single-board computers (or SBCs for short).
While Raspbian Stretch Lite is perhaps the go-to option for Pi users looking for a small footprint from their chosen OS, DietPi has several advantages, as outlined in this table.
Perhaps the key difference for many is the amount of space DietPi takes up on an SD card. To run Raspbian Stretch Lite you’ll need 2GB of storage; for DietPi, just 1GB.
You probably know Linux is more secure than Windows, but the most secure Linux operating system is Qubes. Version 3.2 is currently available, calling itself “A reasonably secure operating system,” boasting testimonial from none other than Edward Snowden.
That name alone should tell you Qubes is one of the best Linux operating systems for security-conscious users.
With an onus on security, freedom, and integrated privacy features, virtualization enforces sandboxed isolation between apps and your hardware.
Formerly known as BackTrack, Kali Linux is a penetration-testing distro, widely used in the online security community. This Debian-based Linux distribution makes it easy to perform digital forensic tasks.
GParted is a single-purpose distribution, intended to make it easy to partition hard drives using a graphical interface. Linux users will be familiar with the standard version that appears in many distributions.
This version is a standalone, dedicated OS, however, ready to run as a live CD. Need to perform some disk management without booting into your computer’s operating system? Use GParted.
A distribution revolving wholly around the concept of privacy and security. It is a live operating system you can use from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card so you can be safe using any computer and leave no trace of your activities.
All internet connections are routed through TOR (the Onion Router) for the best possible anonymity. Meanwhile, cryptographic tools are readily available to protect all your communication methods from prying eyes.
Bruce Schneier is a fan of TAILS, and that’s a big endorsement. It’s the best Linux operating system for users looking for highly portable and highly secure tools.
The Best Linux Operating System for You
With so many Linux operating systems to choose from, you’ll need a distro that does what you need. Fortunately, there are distros for pretty much every purpose.
Do you feel you should pay for open source software? If so, most Linux developers will happily accept a contribution to help maintain the operating system long term.
Some people are content to mouse over endless menus when it comes time to launch an app, but chances are you’re using Linux because you prefer to use your computer in a more efficient manager. That’s when an app launcher, which lets you do anything from launch apps to search your files with just a few taps on the keyboard, comes in handy. Fortunately, you’ve got a lot of choices on Linux, but choosing between them can be difficult. That’s why we rounded up some of the best Linux app launchers and what makes them great. 1. Cerebro If you’ve…
Some people are content to mouse over endless menus when it comes time to launch an app, but chances are you’re using Linux because you prefer to use your computer in a more efficient manager. That’s when an app launcher, which lets you do anything from launch apps to search your files with just a few taps on the keyboard, comes in handy.
Fortunately, you’ve got a lot of choices on Linux, but choosing between them can be difficult. That’s why we rounded up some of the best Linux app launchers and what makes them great.
If you’ve used macOS in recent years, chances are Cerebro will look familiar. Why? Because the app aims to offer the same features as Spotlight, which is built into macOS.
The default keyboard shortcut to launch the app is Ctrl + Space. Once the small window pops up, you’ll be able to launch applications, search for files, and more. Typing the name of a location followed by “map” will show a map of that location right in the window.
Start typing a simple bit of math like “2+2” and the results will appear right away. Plugins integrate with other services as well. These plugins appear right in the Cerebro interface, so there’s no need to search for them on the web as you would with some other launchers.
Cerebro is an Electron app so it runs on macOS and Windows in addition to Linux. Development appears to have slowed down, but Cerebro offers a full experience.
If you’ve ever looked into Linux app launchers before, chances are you’ve stumbled across Synapse, as it’s been around for years. This app uses the Gnome Zeitgeist engine, making its search results blazing fast. Because of this, it also means this might not be your top pick if you aren’t a Gnome user.
In addition to launching apps and searching files, Synapse also has quick shortcuts for logging out of your user account and shutting down or restarting your computer. You can also use plugins to play MP3 files in the default media player, run terminal commands, and lock your screen.
Development has slowed on Synapse, with the bulk of recent releases focusing on fixing bugs rather than new features. The last release was April 2018, but don’t let that stop you from trying Synapse, especially if you use Ubuntu.
Most launchers (with another on this list being a notable exception) are keyboard focused, but Albert takes this further. A list of default actions shows up as the result of what you type, but this isn’t all that’s available. Holding down the Alt key shows a list containing all the alternative actions.
It’s worth browsing the documentation on the Albert website to see all you can do with the keyboard.
Albert offers prebuilt packages for many of the various Linux distributions, so this one is easy to install. The app is written in Qt but should work well with plenty of different desktop environments.
One of the older launchers on this list, Launchy may be familiar to Windows users. In fact, the app seems to focus on Windows most but is also available on Linux and macOS. All the plugins on the Launchy website are Windows-only, but if you install on Ubuntu, you’ll see a Launchy-plugins package is available.
All the default functionality you’d expect is here: you can find and launch apps as well as search and open files. Even if you never touch the plugins, that’s still handy. If you’re looking for simplicity, not excitement, this is a good choice. It’s also handy if you just want to use a launcher that you’re already familiar with from Windows.
Unlike a lot of the other entries on this list, Lighthouse’s developer doesn’t describe it as a launcher. Instead, it is described as “A simple flexible popup dialog to run on X.”
If you want some of the benefits of a launcher without adding any bulk to your system, this might be a nice choice. Lighthouse is extremely lightweight and isn’t going to waste any system resources to run.
On the downside, you’ll have to configure it yourself. It doesn’t even have a keyboard shortcut by default. Instead, it’s up to you to figure out how you want to launch it. It’s somewhat telling that the only prebuilt package available is the lighthouse-git package for Arch Linux.
An older launcher but beloved by many to this day, Gnome Do was one of the earlier launchers available for Linux. Despite its age, Gnome Do is still available and offers some features you won’t find in other launchers.
For example, if you type the name of an app that’s already running, Gnome Do will recognize this and offer up window management options. There are also plenty of plugins available, and they’re built-in. All you need to do is enable the ones you want to use.
As the “Gnome” in the name implies, the launcher is meant for GNOME users, but should also work for MATE and other GNOME-derived desktops.
While Cerebro takes inspiration from Spotlight and Albert is inspired by Alfred, Kupfer is inspired by another macOS launcher: Quicksilver. If you long for the days of “the comma trick,” a Quicksilver feature that allowed you to do an operation on multiple files located anywhere on your computer, you’ll love Kupfer.
That very feature is included in Kupfer among a host of others. Like many other launchers, Kupfer uses a plugin system. Here it’s used extensively, as even launching applications is handled by a plugin, which is included. Other plugins include support for the Thunar file browser and a Notes plugin that integrates with Gnote or Tomboy.
Kupfer hasn’t been updated in two years, but if you’re a current or former Quicksilver user, it’s absolutely worth a look.
Apwal is unlike every single other launcher on this list. Instead of relying on keyboard shortcuts, Apwal relies entirely on your mouse. Specifically, it binds to your right mouse button.
Click the right mouse button and various icons will pop up around it, allowing you to launch commonly used apps with two quick clicks. The included Apwal Editor lets you configure what icons are shown, and what exactly happens when you click on them.
If you prefer, you can set Apwal to use a keyboard shortcut like Alt + Space instead of the right mouse button, making it act more like the other launchers on this list. Still, it’s a very different approach that may appeal to you if you’re a more visually oriented person.
One of the hottest launchers around these days, Ulauncher doesn’t do much different than the other launchers on this list. That said, what it does, it does very well.
If you’re no stranger to typos, Ulauncher may well be your new best friend, as it does a good job figuring out what you meant to type. Even better, the more you use it, the more it learns what you want to open when you type just a few letters. Eventually, it fits like a glove.
Ulauncher has a large library of extensions available including two-factor authentication support, Trello integration, docker integration, and even the ability to search through projects in Visual Studio Code. Packages are available for Debian/Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS, and openSUSE, so it’s easy to install. Development is still very active, so if you want to live on the cutting edge, this might be the best option.
While the above launchers all share a few common features, they’re far from copies of each other. From the very keyboard-centric Albert to the mouse-focused Apwal, these vary quite a bit, so you might want to experiment with a few before you decide to settle. Eventually, you’re bound to find the right one for you.
Got hold of a Raspberry Pi but not entirely confident with Linux? While the main desktop is easy enough to use, at times you’ll need to rely on command line entry in the terminal. But if you’re new to the Raspbian operating system and Linux, this is easier said than done. If you’re using a Raspberry Pi computer for a weekend project (perhaps a media center or a home server), then there is a good chance these useful Raspberry Pi command line instructions will save you some time. Raspberry Pi Commands: You’re Using Linux You’ve imaged your SD card and…
Got hold of a Raspberry Pi but not entirely confident with Linux? While the main desktop is easy enough to use, at times you’ll need to rely on command line entry in the terminal. But if you’re new to the Raspbian operating system and Linux, this is easier said than done.
If you’re using a Raspberry Pi computer for a weekend project (perhaps a media center or a home server), then there is a good chance these useful Raspberry Pi command line instructions will save you some time.
Raspberry Pi Commands: You’re Using Linux
You’ve imaged your SD card and booted your Raspberry Pi, and running the Raspbian operating system, updated and configured to optimize your Raspberry Pi.
This isn’t an attempt to get people using Linux by stealth! You can install Linux on a huge range if devices. Rather, the Raspberry Pi Foundation relies on Linux operating systems because of their open source origins and versatility. While you can use a Linux operating system without using the command line, this is where the real power lies.
Want total control over your Raspbian-powered Raspberry Pi? Begin by launching LX Terminal or booting to the command line.
5 Important Raspberry Pi Update Commands
We wouldn’t expect you to start using the command line without knowing how it works. Essentially, it is a method for instructing the computer to perform tasks, but without a mouse.
Look for the pi@raspberrypi $ prompt when you log in to the terminal. You can enter commands whenever this is displayed.
Probably the first thing you should learn to do from the command line is update your Raspberry Pi. If you’re using Raspbian, this is a case of using three or four commands, to update and upgrade the Pi’s sources and operating system:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
To save time, combine these into a single chained command:
With a mouse-driven GUI, you can easily switch directories and read their contents. However, you may prefer the flexibility of text-based commands.
pwd shows you the current directory (print working directory).
ls will list the contents of the directory.
cd is used to change the directory. For example, cd edward with switch you to a child directory called “Edward” while cd.. returns focus to the parent directory.
mkdir newdir will create a new directory, where “newdir” is the directory label. You can also create a succession of new directories with mkdir -p /home/edward/newdir1/newdir2, where both newdir1 and newdir2 are created, but this will only work with the -p
clear presents a clean new screen, useful if your previous commands are cluttering things up.
You’ll easily pick up these command line basics. It’s useful to be able to navigate via the command line as some files and folders are invisible to the mouse-driven file manager.
10 Commands for Raspberry Pi Hardware Info
On a Windows PC or Mac you can easily find hardware information by looking in System Information or About This Mac. To find out about your Raspberry Pi’s hardware, enter the following:
This will output information about the device’s processor. For instance, where you see “BCM2708”, this indicates that Broadcom manufactured the chip.
Run these proc directory commands to uncover other hardware information.
cat /proc/meminfo displays details about the Raspberry Pi’s memory.
cat /proc/partitions reveals the size and number of partitions on your SD card or HDD.
cat /proc/version shows you which version of the Pi you are using.
Use these commands to assess what your Raspberry Pi might be capable of. It doesn’t end there. Find further information using the vcgencmd series of commands:
vcgencmd measure_temp reveals the CPU temperature (vital if you’re concerned about airflow).
vcgencmd get_mem arm && vcgencmd get_mem gpu will reveal the memory split between the CPU and GPU, which can be adjusted in the config screen.
free -o -h will display the available system memory.
top d1 checks the load on your CPU, displaying details for all cores.
df -h is a great way to quickly check the free disk space on your Raspberry Pi.
uptime is a simple command that displays the Raspberry Pi’s load average.
3 Commands to Check Connected Devices
Just as you can list the contents of a directory with a single command, Linux lets you list devices connected to your computer.
ls /dev/sda* displays a list of partitions on the SD card. For a Raspberry Pi with a HDD attached, substitute sda* with hda*.
lsusb displays all attached USB devices. This is crucial for connecting a hard disk drive or other USB hardware that requires configuration.
If the item is listed here, you should be able to set it up.
lsblk is another list command you can use. This displays information about all attached block devices (storage that reads and writes in blocks).
3 Commands to Shutdown and Restart Raspberry Pi
Perhaps the most important command line instruction is sudo. This single word instructs Linux-based systems that the following command is to be carried out with “super user” privilege. This is an advanced level of access like (but not the same as) administrator on Windows computers.
One of the most common commands for Raspbian users is sudo raspi-config. This opens the configuration screen for the operating system (there is also a desktop version found via main menu). The following three commands may prove useful:
startx will start the Raspberry Pi GUI (graphic user environment) and return you to the default Raspbian desktop.
sudo shutdown -h now will commence the shutdown process with immediate effect. Schedule a timed shutdown with the format: sudo shutdown -h 21:55
sudo reboot is for restarting the Raspberry Pi from the command line.
Raspberry Pi Terminal Commands Are Power
For many people, command line access on any platform is intimidating.
The useful commands listed here are an attempt to give the Raspberry Pi newcomer the bare minimum to get started with the terminal, a small stepping stone to success with whichever Pi project they decide to start.
There’s an added bonus: learning these commands can set you on the road to using Linux, as the majority will work on any distribution! If you’re new to the Raspberry Pi, check out our article on Raspberry Pi basics everyone should know.
The best portable apps don’t require installation. Portable apps can run out of any directory, even a flash drive—and you only need to download, unzip, and run the program to get started. But there are a LOT of portable apps out there. Which ones are worth using? Here’s our master list of the best portable apps that don’t require installation. Jump Ahead: Communication | Gaming | Image Editors | Image Viewers | Media Editors | Media Players | Miscellaneous | Notes | Productivity | Security and Privacy | System Tools | Text Editors | Web Tools Communication Pidgin Pidgin is…
Pidgin is a fully open source, multi-platform messaging client that uses the XMPP protocol. XMPP allows you to link to accounts such as Slack and AIM, ICQ, IRC, and Yahoo Messenger, if you are one of the internet oldies.
Telegram is one of the best known, but not often used, open-source alternatives to Whatsapp (Telegram vs. Whatsapp). It functions as a standalone messenger or as a drop-in replacement for your SMS app on mobile.
Conversations with Telegram feature encryption and threading. Overall, it’s a great and safe alternative to some of the less secure messaging applications out there.
Google Hangouts has its supporters and detractors, but one of the things holding it back is the lack of a half-decent desktop app. So third-party developers have come in to fill the gap. The best one, in my opinion, is YakYak (yeah I know, terrible name), but the software itself is fantastic.
It works just like any other chat software for the desktop. Start conversations, receive them, get notifications of new chats, and send images. There is also audio and video integration, but that opens up in Google Chrome.
If the color scheme doesn’t suit, you can change it to blue or black. And it is all portable, no installation required. Cool, right? This might actually make me start using Google Hangouts.
A favorite if you have friends and family who insist on forwarding you chain emails, with the dashes in them. If you want to pass on the chain email nice and clean, then run the text through Email Stripper.
Once the text is inside the box, press 2. Strip It! and bingo, the text will appear nice and clean. Pressing 3. Copy puts the clean text on your clipboard, ready for pasting into a new email.
I don’t know why I play chess, I really don’t. I always get slaughtered by the program, within the first 5-10 minutes of play. This is me after a few minutes, and already my Queen is under threat (I’m the white team).
The only brutal part of it is the brutal blood-letting going on when I get it into my head that I am a chess grandmaster.
I am not at all good at playing Sudoku. Yet, despite sucking at it, I recognize that it’s a truly great game. Even if you, like me, couldn’t play Sudoku on par with a 4-year-old toddler, it’s worth checking it out.
Who doesn’t know GIMP? The “poor person’s Photoshop”, because GIMP emulates a lot of Photoshop features, except for the fact that you are not paying through the nose for GIMP. Plus, like Photoshop, GIMP has a lot of features with a steep learning curve. I have been using GIMP for years, and I know I have only scratched the surface of it.
As the name of the app indicates, JPEG View can open, and view, JPEG images. It also views BMP, PNG, GIF and TIFF images (and others). You can also do some basic editing on those images such as adjusting the contrast, lighting, sharpness, and a few others.
It’s more or less a dead-simple image view application. While some might prefer the complexity of IrfanView, others might prefer the simplicity of JPEG View.
IrfanView is superior to the default Windows image editor in every way you can imagine. It’s amazing for batch-editing images and for making very rapid alterations to screenshots and photos. It’s also extremely extensible with thousands of plugin filters available. Just a word of advice: learn to use IrfanView’s hotkeys (or keyboard shortcuts).
So why is it under “Image Viewer” and not “Image Editor”? Because it can do both. IrfanView is excellent also as a quick light app for viewing images (either individually or as a slideshow).
Audacity is the best free audio editor around. It should be in everyone’s toolbox. Not only is it easy to learn, Audacity is versatile. It can cut, copy, splice, and mix audio, record live files, change the speed and pitch of a recording, and import/export some obscure file formats.
CDex is the best, easiest, and fastest CD ripper ever made. It has the ability to rip the discs into MP3 files, along with its metadata (by connecting with a “remote database”). You can add all of the music to new playlists, as well as have the computer shutdown when the ripping has finished, so this is an ideal “start it and go to bed” app.
It’s important to note that CDex is better than the paid apps out there. Don’t bother with the rest if you need to pull audio tracks off a CD.
If CDex doesn’t cut it for managing your massive music library, then that’s where the tag editor Mp3tag comes in. Simply load the relevant songs into MP3tag, and from there you can fix the title of the song, the singer/band, album name, and album artwork. Save your work and bingo, your MP3 files are fixed.
Avidemux is a video editor designed for simple cutting, filtering, and encoding tasks. It supports many file types, including AVI, DVD compatible MPEG files, MP4 and ASF, using a variety of codecs. Tasks can be automated using projects, job queue, and powerful scripting capabilities.
VirtualDub Portable is a video-capture and video-processing app. It includes batch-processing capabilities for processing large numbers of files. It can also be extended with third-party video filters. VirtualDub is mainly geared toward processing AVI files, although it can read (not write) MPEG-1 and also handle sets of BMP images.
A great, frequently updated, lightweight media player, with different skins, playlists, and the ability to play and rip audio CDs. Foobar2000 supports multiple media formats, advanced tagging capabilities, and customizable keyboard shortcuts.
While the executable file for Foobar2000 appears to require installation, it actually unzips if you choose the “portable installation” option after clicking on the executable. You can run the unzipped files without installing them, but it requires a Windows computer.
AIMP is a bright looking thing, which supports multi-format files, multiple playlists, audio converting, naming and sorting tags, easy music organization, and it even works as an alarm clock, waking you up to your favorite tunes.
VLC Player needs no introduction. VLC Player handles virtually any file format you care to throw at it. It plays DVDs, streaming video, and music. Most people can just install VLC Player for all their media-playing needs and forget the rest.
PotPlayer is a feature-rich media player that plays hundreds of different video and audio formats without any dependency on installed codecs, as well as streaming media and DVD video. Other features include configurable subtitles, audio and subtitles delay adjustment, video equalizer, playlist support, etc.
MPlayer is no longer being developed and is not recommended anymore. SMPlayer, however, is in active development.
This media player is notable for its ability to display two sets of subtitles on the screen at the same time, side-by-side. This is invaluable for language learners who can see their native language on the left, and the language they are learning on the right.
Please note however that the website tends to go up and down. However this in no way impacts the quality of the media player, which is excellent.
Media Player Classic (MPC) emulates the original Windows Media Player. For those not familiar with the app, it’s similar to VLC Player in that it can play almost any video file—and it’s open source. But above all else, MPC costs nothing while delivering one of the best viewing experiences around.
Download: Media Player Classic Portable for Windows (Free)
I’ve tried many different image-burning portable app, like Rufus and UNetbootin. The most user-friendly and well-designed application for burning images is Etcher. Etcher automatically performs validation checks on completed image burns. And on top of that, it’s one of the most user-friendly portable apps around.
If you ever need to create a live Linux USB drive, look no further than Etcher.
At some point, you are going to need to wipe your computer. Whatever the reason, you are going to need the license keys for all of your paid software, and I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that you don’t already have them written down. Am I right?
LicenseCrawler is your savior. Before wiping your hard drive, run this nifty little program, and any license numbers stored in the Windows Registry will be shown in a handy text file which can then be saved. Just remember to save it to a USB drive or email it to yourself. Don’t leave it on the drive you are going to wipe, is what I’m saying.
This app has two purposes. What it does is that it disables the keys on your keyboard, for when you are away from the computer. So first, this can be used to stop your children from deleting and ruining that 100-page report to your boss. But second, and this is what I use it for, it can be used to clean the keyboard without watching the keys go crazy on your monitor.
Linux is a great alternative system if you are tired of the usual Windows or Mac scene. And we have covered Linux extensively over the years. LinuxLive USB Creator is an app which easily and effortlessly installs any version of Linux onto your USB stick. It falls under the “even your grandma could do it” category.
Download: LinuxLive USB Creator for Windows (Free)
UNetbootin can take an ISO image and burn it into a USB stick. That’s useful for when you need an installable medium for holding a Linux distribution. In my opinion, UNetbootin works even better than LinuxLive USB Creator because of its simplicity and ease of use.
PNotes Portable is an easy to use sticky notes manager with skins, flexible display options, and a built-in scheduler. You can place it on your USB flash drive, iPod, portable hard drive or a CD and use it on any computer, without leaving any personal information behind.
Are you the kind of person with lots of paper sticky notes lying around? Then ditch them all and try this. Stickies is a lightweight sticky note utility that allows you to place virtual sticky notes on your computer screen.
LibreOffice is available as a portable application. I recommend installing it if you have the storage space. However, if you don’t have the storage space, LibreOffice is an amazing portable app. It’s one of the best free Microsoft Office alternatives.
Sometimes, when I am in the middle of a project on my computer, I need to make multiple new folders for different files. But it is tiring having to laboriously make each folder, so Text2Folders aims to help by making those folders for you at the click of a button.
You simply type the numbers of the folders you want in a text file. So if you wanted five folders, you would type “1,2,3,4,5” (no parentheses) into the text file. Save and close. Then with Text2Folders, navigate to the text file and start it. It will then instantly create five folders for you in the same location as the text file.
Obviously, you would have to rename the folders, but hey the folders have been made for you, which has saved some time, right?
.ZIP files (also known as “Zip” which is appended onto a file name) are awesome for collecting and compacting lots of files together. But Zip files get corrupted, just like any other computer file. So how do you try to salvage what you can, when a zip file goes bad? You use Zip2Fix.
With Zip2Fix, it will scan the corrupted (and therefore unopenable) Zip file, and see if there are any files able to be retrieved. If anything can be salvaged, it will extract those files and create a totally separate Zip file with them inside. You can then dump the corrupted Zip file, and see in the other one what has survived.
Zip2Fix ranks among the best portable apps around. I highly recommend it for all Windows users.
It’s very easy to accumulate stuff on our hard drives. In my photo folder for my dog, I have at least six copies of every photo because of massive reduplication issues with cloud storage apps. So how do you weed out the duplicates and make space on your storage drive? Use Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder!
Just add the photo directories on your hard drive that you want scanned and it will get to work finding the duplicates. Don’t worry, nothing gets deleted without your say-so. When it has finished, it will find similar images, present them to you side-by-side with a probability in percentage terms of how likely it is that the photos are similar. You then decide which one you want to keep and which one gets tossed.
Download: Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder for Windows (Free)
If you have a huge collection of anything, whether it be books, DVDs, belly-button lint, whatever, then you may want to catalog it all so you know what you have. That is where DataCrow comes in. Just choose your category, and add the details. It is a little on the basic side but that will appeal to those who are into minimalism.
The first thing that this has got going for it is that it can automatically detect downloads starting in both Firefox and Chrome. So there is no need to actually start it in Download Manager. As long as Download Manager is running in the background, it will know when something starts in one of those browsers. It will also monitor the clipboard for any downloads.
Overall, using an app like this often makes downloads faster, plus if the browser was suddenly to crash and close, Download Manager would be able to pick up the download where it left off.
Download: Free Download Manager for Windows (Free)
Never a day goes by without some kind of password hack being reported in the news. It’s important that you don’t reuse your passwords for different accounts. Also, make each password a bit more difficult than PASSWORD or 12345. Something along the lines of D?oqu?l8bhIY#|I+^\|&S~5Te is in order. But how do you remember that? You use a password manager.
I use a combination of LastPass with KeePass. You can export your LastPass passwords to KeePass. Once you’ve made the transfer you have a copy of your passwords in case anything ever happens to LastPass.
If you are selling your computer, or are security conscious, then Eraser should be on your USB stick. The reason you need a secure erase method is that Windows files can be recovered even after you clear the Windows garbage can. The Windows trash can merely removes the file and gives you back disk space—but the file is still there. Anyone with the right software (readily and easily available online) could bring the file back. Eraser puts a stop to that.
Simply drag the files you want nuked into the Eraser window and let it do its work. By the time it is finished, those files will have been consigned to oblivion, and you can rest easy that your secrets are safe with you, and you only.
PWGen is a password generator which will create for you large amounts of cryptographically-secure passwords or passphrases consisting of randomly drawn words from a dictionary. PWGen provides lots of options to customize passwords to the users’ various needs.
ClamWin is an antivirus program, which gives you features such as detecting viruses (obviously), as well as regular updates to the virus engine. You have to remember though that due to its portable nature, this is not a real-time scanner. This means that it will only detect a virus if you manually give it a file to check. Plus scheduled scans and updates are also not possible so you have to manually update it yourself.
WinDirStat allows users to generate a visual representation of what’s stored on their storage drive. The resulting visual depiction represents each file type using different colors (orange for text files, for example) and sizes (larger blocks mean larger amounts of data).
WinDirStat is the best tool for those who want to slim down a hard drive. Just avoid deleting any programs or files in your Windows directory.
This is probably the best and easiest disc burning software app that I have ever used. Simply choose which one you want, then you will see your hard drive on the left and the disc space on the right. Then it’s just a case of dragging and dropping the files from your hard drive to the disc space. Then watch it start burning.
We were big fans of CCleaner here at MUO, up until their client became bogged down with ads. However, you might still want to give the portable version a try.
It definitely pays for you to give your computer a thorough cleaning now and then. Clear out all the crap files that are blocking up your system, and more. This is one thing you should schedule on a regular basis. The downside is that the portable version takes ages to start.
When you uninstall something from your computer, it isn’t really completely uninstalled. Windows leaves behind junk files and empty folders, which over time can clog up the pipes. Geek Uninstaller uninstalls programs properly and makes sure that all the junk goes with it.
The portable version of Recuva lets users undelete any file that they’ve recently sent to the garbage. We call this a file recovery tool because it recovers deleted files. There are many kinds of recovery files out there, but the difference is Recuva offers a degree of flexibility that eclipses many paid undeleters.
If you ever accidentally delete something, Recuva should be the first app to check out.
Do you have TV show files on your computer with messed up file names? Then FileBot will access various television-related websites such as IMDB and TV.com to get the full episode list for the relevant TV series and your titles will be automatically fixed for you. Pure genius.
AbiWord Portable is a free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word. It supports numerous file formats such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Open Document, Office Open XML (MS Word 2007), RTF, HTML, Palm and more.
It has grammar and spelling checkers as well as other handy features including mail merge capabilities, plus a plugin system allowing you to add features with available add-on plugins.
Notepad++ Portable is a full-featured text editor for coders and developers. It has features such as syntax highlighting, syntax folding, auto-completion, drag-and-drop, macro recording and playback, and much more.
What I like about Jarte is its nice appealing interface and its huge number of keyboard shortcuts. It is based on the Microsoft WordPad word processing engine built into Windows, and all documents are compatible with Microsoft Word. It opens files with the formats RTF, DOC, and DOCX. It’s fast, and you can export to PDF.
There’s also a paid version of Jarte called Jarte Plus that includes spell checking and other advanced word processor features. The advantage over LibreOffice Portable is that Jarte is much lighter and requires less than 10 megabytes of space.
The Tor Project combines several features into a single package: A Virtual Proxy Network (VPN), a secure browser, and a few other security features. While Tor doesn’t fully protect against illegal surveillance, it does help prevent unwanted eavesdroppers from prying into your personal business. It’s great for everything from researching gift ideas for your loved ones to looking into political candidates.
While the downloaded package will install itself if you run it, Tor Browser can simply be unzipped and run—which means you don’t need to install it.
FileZilla really annoys me. Fortunately, there’s a strong alternative called WinSCP.
You simply add your FTP details and it will connect almost instantaneously. You can then start dragging files from your computer and from your domain.
There is an installed version on the WinSCP site, but the portable version is virtually identical and just as fast. So it makes sense to just pop the portable version on your USB stick for when you need to update your site.
Opinion is divided over which is the best browser, but it practically seems to come down to two possibilities: Firefox and Chrome. In my opinion, Chrome is the winner, due to its superior syncing abilities, its speedy connection to the net, and the availability of extremely useful add-ons.
qBittorrent is both open source and in active development. Not only is it free, but it’s also fairly secure. Particularly in comparison to the BitTorrent client, which has its share of vulnerabilities. I recommend QBittorrent over the other BitTorrent clients (particularly over uTorrent).
There’s also DelugePortable, which is the portable version of the (also) open source BitTorrent client Deluge.
The competition is tough, but my top three portable apps are qBittorrent, LibreOffice, and Tor Project. If you install qBittorrent, make sure to download responsibly and legally—and always use a VPN on the web!
Over the years, businesses and their systems are getting more integrated, forming industry-specific trustless networks, and blockchain technology is in the foundation of this evolutionary step.
Bilgin Ibryam is a principal architect at Red Hat, committer and member of Apache Software Foundation. He is an open-source evangelist, blogger, occasional speaker and the author of Kubernetes Patterns and Camel Design Patterns.
Here is one way to look at distributed ledger technologies (DLT) and blockchain in the context of integration evolution. Over the years, businesses and their systems are getting more integrated, forming industry-specific trustless networks, and blockchain technology is in the foundation of this evolutionary step.
Large organizations have a large number of applications running in separate silos that need to share data and functionality in order to operate in a unified and consistent way. The process of linking such applications within a single organization, to enable sharing of data and business processes, is called enterprise application integration (EAI).
Similarly, organizations also need to share data and functionality in a controlled way among themselves. They need to integrate and automate the key business processes that extend outside the walls of the organizations. The latter is an extension of EAI and achieved by exchanging structured messages using agreed upon message standards referred to as business-to-business (B2B) integration.
Fundamentally, both terms refer to the process of integrating data and functionality that spans across multiple systems and sometimes parties. The systems and business processes in these organizations are evolving, and so is the technology enabling B2B unification.
Evolution of integration
There isn’t a year when certain integration technologies became mainstream; they gradually evolved and built on top of each other. Rather than focusing on the specific technology and year, let’s try to observe the progression that happened over the decades and see why blockchain is the next technology iteration.
Evolution of integration technologies
Next we will explore briefly the main technological advances in each evolutionary step listed in the table above.
This is one of the oldest mechanisms for information access across different systems with the following two primary examples:
Common database approach is used for system integration within organizations.
File sharing method is used for within and cross-organization data exchange. With universal protocols such as FTP, file sharing allows exchange of application data running across machines and operating systems.
But both approaches are non-real-time, batch-based integrations with limitations around scalability and reliability.
While data integration provided non-real-time data exchange, the methods described here allow real-time data and importantly functionality exchange:
Remote procedure call provides significant improvements over low-level socket-based integration by hiding networking and data marshaling complexity. But it is an early generation, language-dependent, point-to-point, client-server architecture.
Object request broker architecture (with CORBA, DCOM, RMI implementations) introduces the broker component, which allows multiple applications in different languages to reuse the same infrastructure and talk to each other in a peer-to-peer fashion. In addition, the CORBA model has the notion of naming, security, concurrency, transactionality, registry and language-independent interface definition.
Messaging introduces temporal decoupling between applications and ensures guaranteed asynchronous message delivery.
So far we have seen many technology improvements, but they are primarily focused on system integration rather than application integration aspects. From batch to real-time data exchange, from point-to-point to peer-to-peer, from synchronous to asynchronous, these methods do not care or control what is the type of data they exchange, nor force or validate it. Still, this early generation integration infrastructure enabled B2B integrations by exchanging EDI-formatted data for example, but without any understanding of the data, nor the business process, it is part of.
With CORBA, we have early attempts of interface definitions, and services that are useful for application integration.
The main aspects of SOA that are relevant for our purpose are Web Services standards. XML providing language-independent format for exchange of data, SOAP providing common message format and WSDL providing an independent format for describing service interfaces, form the foundation of web services. These standards, combined with ESB and BPM implementations, made integrations focus on the business integration semantics, whereas the prior technologies were enabling system integration primarily.
Web services allowed systems not to exchange data blindly, but to have machine readable contracts and interface definitions. Such contracts would allow a system to understand and validate the data (up to a degree) before interacting with the other system.
I also include microservices architectural style here, as in its core, it builds and improves over SOA and ESBs. The primary evolution during this phase is around distributed system decomposition and transition from WS to REST-based interaction.
In summary, this is the phase where, on top of common protocols, distributed systems also got common standards and contracts definitions.
While exchanging data over common protocols and standards helps, the service contracts do not provide insight about the business processes hidden behind the contracts and running on remote systems. A request might be valid according to the contract, but invalid depending on the business processes’ current state. That is even more problematic when integration is not between two parties, as in the client-server model, but among multiple equally involved parties in a peer-to-peer model.
Sometimes multiple parties are part of the same business process, which is owned by no one party but all parties. A prerequisite for a proper functioning of such a multi-party interaction is transparency of the common business process and its current state. All that makes the blockchain technology very attractive for implementing distributed business processes among multiple parties.
This model extends the use of shared protocols and service contracts with shared business processes and contained state. With blockchain, all participating entities share the same business process in the form of smart contracts. But in order to validate the requests, process and come to the same conclusion, the business processes need also the same state, and that is achieved through the distributed ledger. Sharing all the past states of a smart contract is not a goal by itself, but a prerequisite of the shared business process runtime.
Looked at from this angle, blockchain can be viewed as the next step in the integration evolution. As we will see below, blockchain networks act as a kind of distributed ESB and BPM machinery that are not contained within a single business entity, but spanning multiple organizations.
Integration technology moving into the space between systems
First the protocols (such as FTP), then the API contracts (WSDL, SOAP) and now the business processes themselves (smart contracts) and their data are moving outside of the organizations, into the common shared space, and become part of the integration infrastructure. In some respect, this trend is analogous to how cross-cutting responsibilities of microservices are moving from within services into the supporting platforms.
With blockchain, common data models and now business processes are moving out of the organizations into the shared business networks. Something to note is that this move is not universally applicable and it is not likely to become a mainstream integration mechanism. Such a move is only possible when all participants in the network have the same understanding of data models and business processes; hence, it is applicable only in certain industries where the processes can be standardized, such as finance, supply chain, health care, etc.
Generations of integrations
Having done some chronological technology progression follow-up, let’s have a more broad look at the B2B integration evolution and its main stages.
First generation: system integration protocols
This is the generation of integration technology before CORBA and SOA, enabling mainly data exchange over common protocols but without an understanding of the data, contracts and business processes:
Integration model:client-server, where the server component is controlled by one party only; examples are databases, file servers, message brokers, etc.
Explicit, shared infrastructure: low-level system protocols and APIs such as FTP.
Implicit, not shared infrastructure: application contracts, data formats, business processes not part of the common integration infrastructure.
Second generation: application integration contracts
This generation of integration technology uses the system protocols from previous years and allows applications to share their APIs in the form of universal contracts. This is the next level of integration, where both applications understand the data, its structure, possible error conditions, but not the business process and current state behind it in the other systems:
Integration model:client-server model with APIs described by contracts.
Explicit, shared infrastructure: protocols, application contracts, and API definitions.
Implicit, not shared infrastructure: business processes and remote state are still private.
Third generation: distributed business processes
The blockchain-based generation, which still has to prove itself as a viable enterprise architecture, goes a step further. It uses peer-to-peer protocols, and shares business processes with state across multiple systems that are controlled by parties not trusting each other. While previous integration generations required shared understanding of protocol or APIs, this relies on common understanding of the full business process and its current state. Only then it makes sense and pays off to form a cross-organization distributed business process network:
Integration model:multi-party, peer-to-peer integration, by forming business networks with distributed business processes.
Explicit, shared infrastructure: business process and its required state.
Implicit, not shared infrastructure: other non-process related state.
There are many blockchain-based projects that are taking different approaches for solving the business integration challenges. In no particular, order here are some of the most popular and interesting permissioned open-source blockchain projects targeting the B2B integration space:
Hyperledger Fabric is one of the most popular and advanced blockchain frameworks, initially developed by IBM, and now part of Linux Foundation.
Hyperledger Sawtooth is another Linux Foundation distributed project developed initially by Intel. It is popular for its modularity and full component replaceability.
Quorum is an enterprise-focused distribution of Ethereum.
Corda is another project that builds on top of existing JVM-based middleware technologies and enables organizations to transact with contracts and exchange value.
There are already many business networks built with the above projects, enabling network member organizations to integrate and interact with each other using this new integration model.
In addition to these full-stack blockchain projects that provide network nodes, there also are hybrid approaches. For example, Unibright is a project that aims to connect internal business processes defined in familiar standards such as BPMN with existing blockchain networks by automatically generating smart contracts. The smart contracts can be generated for public or private blockchains, which can act as another integration pillar among organizations.
Recently, there are many blockchain experiments in many fields of life. While public blockchains generate all the hype by promising to change the world, private and permissioned blockchains are promising less, but are advancing steadily.
Enterprise integration has multiple nuances. Integration challenges within an organization, where all systems are controlled by one entity and participants have some degree of trust to each other, are mostly addressed by modern ESBs, BPMs and microservices architectures. But when it comes to multi-party B2B integration, there are additional challenges. These systems are controlled by multiple organizations, have no visibility of the business processes and do not trust each other. In these scenarios, we see organizations experimenting with a new breed of blockchain-based technology that relies not only on sharing of the protocols and contracts but sharing of the end-to-end business processes and state.
And this trend is aligned with the general direction integration has been evolving over the years: from sharing the very minimum protocols, to sharing and exposing more and more in the form of contracts, APIs and now business processes.
This shared integration infrastructure enables new transparent integration models where the previously private business processes are now jointly owned, agreed, built, maintained and standardized using the open-source collaboration model. This can motivate organizations to share business processes and form networks to benefit further from joint innovation, standardization and deeper integration in general.
There’s a certain irony to Chromebooks. On one hand, Google is hardly a company most people would associate with privacy. On the other, Chromebooks are easy to lock down. With a few tweaks, they can provide a relatively safe way to get online. And that’s without installing anything. So how do you configure Chrome OS to guard your privacy? Here are some steps that are easy to take. These tips also apply if you’re using Google Chrome on Windows or MacOS, though the settings may vary. 1. Disable These “Privacy and Security” Settings Google has built several features into Chrome…
There’s a certain irony to Chromebooks. On one hand, Google is hardly a company most people would associate with privacy. On the other, Chromebooks are easy to lock down. With a few tweaks, they can provide a relatively safe way to get online. And that’s without installing anything.
So how do you configure Chrome OS to guard your privacy? Here are some steps that are easy to take. These tips also apply if you’re using Google Chrome on Windows or MacOS, though the settings may vary.
1. Disable These “Privacy and Security” Settings
Google has built several features into Chrome intended to improve your web browsing experience. The catch is that these services involve sending data to the company’s servers, which it can add to your user account. Google then analyzes your data in order to sell increasingly personalized ads.
Some of these features send data to Google every time you enter a letter into the navigation bar.
This means Google gets to see everything you search for and every website you visit, whether or not you use the Google search engine, and even if you change your mind and decide not to visit a site or start a search. Are you comfortable with Google knowing that much about you?
You can disable these options by opening Chrome settings and going to the Privacy and security section.
Features to disable:
Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar or the app launcher search box
Use a prediction service to load pages more quickly
Use a web service to help resolve navigation errors
Help improve Safe Browsing
Automatically send diagnostic and usage data to Google
Use a web service to help resolve spelling errors
2. Enable “Safe Browsing” and “Do Not Track”
Under Privacy and security, there are also a few settings you will likely want to enable.
Safe Browsing is one of them. This feature can prevent certain malicious or poorly secured sites from opening in your browser.
Do Not Track is another. Websites sometimes monitor your behavior. They may know how much time you spend on any given page and what type of information most interests you.
Sometimes they do this to provide you with a better experience, but in the process, they’re able to build a profile that you might prefer they didn’t have. With Do Not Track enabled, you’re telling websites not to track your behavior. Will all of them listen? No. But some might.
3. Disable or Encrypt Data Syncing
Web browsers may primarily serve to connect us to the web, but your bookmarks and browsing history are typically saved on your computer. You don’t have to store everything online. If you enable syncing, you’re taking data from your computer and giving it to Google. Disable syncing to keep a copy off of Google’s servers.
You can disable syncing by going to People > Sync. There you can turn off Sync everything and untoggle various categories.
If you use numerous devices and value having your browsing data synced across all of them, you can instead choose to encrypt all of your synced data with a passphrase. You can find this option underneath all of the toggles mentioned above.
Chrome will ask you to create a passphrase that you will need to enter on every device you choose to sync. To keep this data private, make sure the passphrase is not the same as the one you choose for your Google account. This way Google’s servers will store your data, but the company won’t have the passphrase needed to decrypt your files.
Warning: Be careful not to forget your passphrase. Since your passphrase is not stored online, Google cannot help you recover it. This means you will lose your synced data.
4. Disable Location Tracking
Websites can get an idea where you live from your IP address, but with location tracking, they can get your exact location. You can manage location tracking under Privacy and security > Content settings > Location.
Initially, Chrome will ask if you want to allow a site to access your location. The browser will keep a list of all the sites your permit or deny. But more often than not, you can use the web just fine by blocking this functionality entirely.
You can use Google Maps and similar sites by entering your address manually, just like in the days before our devices came with GPS built-in.
5. Don’t Save Addresses and Payment Methods
Whether you love the internet or prefer to stay offline, these days it’s hard to avoid filling out online forms. Chrome will try to make this task easier for you by remembering information you fill out often, such as your email address, your physical address, phone numbers, and credit cards.
As tempting as this may be, it means you’re creating a record of your personal information that isn’t necessary. Even if you disable syncing, someone with access to your computer can peak at this information. This could be dangerous if you leave your computer in a public place, but it can also lead to unintended consequences when sharing your device with friends or family members.
You can tell Chrome not to remember most of this information by going to People > Addresses and more.
To stop Chrome from storing your credit cards, go to People > Payment methods. Both locations allow you to delete any information that Chrome may have already stored.
6. Limit Cookies
Cookies are important for sites that let you sign into an account or add items into a cart.
But sites can store whatever they want in these files. So can ad networks. That’s why it’s a good practice to limit which cookies are permitted onto your computer.
To do this, go to Privacy and security > Content settings > Cookies. Enable Block third-party cookies. To better cover your tracks, you can also enable Keep local data only until you quit your browser, but know that this means you will have to sign into sites again the next time you open Chrome.
You can see all of the cookies Chrome has saved by selecting See all cookies and site data. Here you can delete cookies one at a time or clear them all.
7. Change Default Search Engine
Chrome defaults to the Google search engine. That provides Google with every search that we enter into the navigation bar. This information is so personal, it means Google knows certain things about us that would surprise our loved ones or closest colleagues.
You can cut Google off from this information by changing your default search engine. You could try Bing, if you prefer, though that requires giving your data to Microsoft rather than Google. Alternatively, you can try a search engine that prioritizes privacy.
You can change your default search engine by going to Search and Assistant > Manage search engines. You can also get here by right-clicking the navigation bar and selecting Edit search engines… in the context menu.
Under Search and Assistant, you also have the option to change “Search engine used in the address bar.” You can also choose to disable Google Assistant, if your computer supports that feature.
Other Steps You Can Take
These tips will greatly reduce the amount of information you put online, but it won’t stop all data collection. It’s still possible for others, including your Internet Service Provider, to monitor your browsing habits.
Let’s not stop with your browser and network settings. If you own a Chromebook, then you likely have a Google account. You’ve probably already given Google quite a bit of data. Fortunately, Google is somewhat transparent about what it collects. You can take a look at your account and limit what data Google can access.