Some Favorite Open Source Utilities

By Blane Warrene
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I was inspired by Rui at the Tao of Mac and his open source watch list to think about some of the open source utilities I cannot live without.

Some are considered old school, some are new and some are just amazing productivity pieces.

For starters, I discovered that we shared one app in common, Newspipe. It is a python-based newsreader that processes RSS subscriptions and sends the headlines, story summary and links to an email address of your choice. I run mine in cron in the background on my OS X workstation and simply review the latest stories along with my regular email. No GUI RSS reader needed. It has very flexible configuration options and is well worth a look if you rely on RSS feeds and don’t need yet another app open. It works on Linux, Mac and Windows with Python 2.3.

Webmin is by far my favorite systems management app. Though I spend a great deal of time on servers using the command line – there are several repetitive tasks which are just plain quicker using Webmin. Plus, for multi-server environments, I cana chain webmin installs together and broadcast configuration changes, updates, etc. (inside the firewall!).

Unlike a majority of control panels, this tool is targeting system administrators due to its root level access to the filesystem and underlying sensitive configuration files. I wrote a piece on Webmin in 2004 that goes in depth.

By default Vi is on this list due to the ease of use (after one gets used to tooling around in a terminal editor!) and quickness when making edits on files and touching configuration files. Though I know there are Emacs fans out there but I could not live without Vi.

Tripwire wins as a premium security asset on servers – and remains free for Linux administrators. In a nutshell Tripwire takes a snapshot of your filesystem including files and directories you specify during setup. It then guards these files by requiring an email to the administrator and a follow-up approval via command line by that admin for the change(s) to take effect. If you are working on a machine making substantial changes – the safety-net system can be overridden via an extra authentication (helpful unless you like reading lots of email).

Specific to the Mac OS X I hand out kudos to the developers of Adium, a multi-protocol instant messaging solution that allows me to be online via AOL, MSN and Yahoo screen names (it supports others as well). Though I primarily use an AOL IM account, some of my customers are on other networks – and those folks can now also ping me via IM as well as email and phone.

  • David Kastrup

    Vi is not what you are talking about: the web site for _that_ is . You are talking about vim.

  • http://www.practicalapplications.net bwarrene

    Vi is not what you are talking about: the web site for _that_ is . You are talking about vim.

    Sorry about the bad link and thanks for the heads up. I have about twenty Vi links and got a little mixed up there! Still – could not live without it! ;>)

  • Don Ritchey

    For system amdinistration on UNIX or UNIX-like systems, lsof (LiSt Open Files) is a life-saver. lsof will show what files a program has open, to include network connections, shared libraries, pipes, sockets, etc. It is the Swiss Army knife of programmer/administrator tools.
    See author Vic Abel’s home page for details:

  • Dorsey

    Having used vi for more than twenty years, I still find that I can’t live without certain functionality, and tend to think in terms of regular expressions. Are the commands arcane? You betcha! Is it extremely powerful for processing raw data ad-hoc? Most definitely!! Sure, vi is old-school, but for certain tasks, nothing else comes close.

  • Dey

    Just thought you might be interested in this blog too.

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