Minimalist Linux For Netbooks, Part II

Last time, we explored the world of terminal emulators and how they provide a window into the world of powerful text-based applications. Now we look at a set of example applications that may prove to be a useful replacement for graphical ones when they may be too bulky for a netbook.

Chat Clients
The dominating program for multi-protocol instant messaging is Pidgin (formerly Gaim). It’s highly configurable and supports a ton of protocols, including AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, and IRC.

So does Finch.

Finch is the lesser known text-based equivalent of Pidgin, and links to the same libraries Pidgin does. In fact, many of the plugins that Pidgin users enjoy work in Finch.

This screenshot shows a user interface that’s in-between console mode and graphical mode, in the sense that it has ASCII windows and you can switch back and forth between them. Install it, run “man finch” in the terminal for details on how to use it, and enjoy.

Another multi-protocol application that’s out there is Bitlbee, which may be the best thing for hardcore IRC users. It acts as an IRC server that you connect to with a client (might I suggest irssi?). The difference is that it allows you to create a buddylist and chat with them in an IRC-style fashion. There exist public servers that host this, so you may never have to worry about migrating settings on your chat client again.

Audio Players
When it comes to Linux, there are a metric ton of audio players out there: XMMS, XMMS2, BMP, Banchee, Exaile, Totem, Songbird.. I can go on forever. There’s a little-known set that run in the console, and support a vast array of audio codecs.

Audacious is a fork of Beep Media Player, which was a fork of XMMS… Let’s try that again. Audacious is a lightweight and highly-configurable music player that supports the old set of Winamp skins, playlists, etc. However, there is a little-used feature that may prove useful for console warriors or for servers that don’t have X.

Starting Audacious in headless mode starts a background process that you connect to with a set of graphical mode clients, like these.

Another popular text-mode audio player is MPD(Music Player Daemon). It supports many codecs and the ability to stream audio via Icecast for web radio. Like Audacious, it needs a client to manipulate it but you have the ability to run the client from another machine on the network. Here’s an example of ncpmc, a curses client:

Email Clients
I love Thunderbird. I use it at work and it’s just great. However, I highly doubt that will be usable in a 800×600 screen. So, I needed a text-based client that could support things like IMAPS and SMTPS. Well, it’s time to kick it olde school with a classic yet sweet textapp:


You must be thinking: What the.. this guy’s crazy! That mail client is like 13 years old. What would my Compiz Fusion cube-rotating fanboy friends think of my whacked-out Linux 1.0 setup?

Hold on, now. What if I told you it supports Gmail? Here’s my setup:

Plus, you can set whatever editor you want, even a graphical one if you were so inclined. Mutt is sweet because it has color themes, thread tracking, and a relatively simple command set for sending, reading, replying, etc. Another cool feature is that you can tell Mutt to open, let’s say, .jpg attachments with an external program for viewing. I’d recommend ‘display’ from the imlib2 project, because it has a thumbnail scrolling feature for tiny screens.

If you are really turned off by a text-based mail client, try Sylpheed, It’s a pretty nice light email client that supports your standard feature set.

This should get you started in creating a nice application set to acheive liberation from the X11 overlords.. Next time we will talk about tying it all together with Screen for a complete text-app window management solution.