Top 7 Linux Open Source Development Tools

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I began my foray into web development with Adobe's Dreamweaver software, under Windows. As I moved to the Linux OS, I welcomed the opportunity to explore a wide range of free development tools that provided nearly the same experience. In fact, I realized that not being able to rely on Dreamweaver's automation, forced me to learn even more.

In that regard, I'd say that my transition to developing under the Linux platform involved a bit of a learning curve. There have been endless debates about the merits of each tool, but at their most basic levels, they perform much of the same functions.

Things like search & replace functions, syntax highlighting, and support for multiple programming languages are standard features.

In this article, we'll review Linux's top open source editors.

We'll cover some with basic functionality and those that are full fledged integrated development environments (IDE).

Ready to try your hand at developing under Linux?

Read on...



1. Gedit

I decided to include Gedit in this list because even though it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of other tools, in terms of simplicity, it can't be beat. Gedit is the official Gnome desktop editor, and is part of the default installation for any Gnome based flavors of Linux.

It supports development in many languages, with syntax highlighting. An extensive collection of plugins allows you to further expand the functionality.

This is the tool that I use for quick editing or changing of files. One of the things that keeps me from using it more is the inability to mount remote network drives.



2. Vim

Ever heard of defacto Unix text editor Vi? Vim is touted as an improved version, more feature-rich, Vi. Known as the “the programmer's editor,” it's obviously great for coding, but you can also edit things like config files and xml documents.

Vim is difficult to learn, and my own attempts have admittedly stalled. But proponents suggest that once you master it, the time it takes to learn will be worth it.

Vim comes standard with most every Linux distribution, but can be installed in Ubuntu with the command: sudo apt-get install vim full

Launch in console mode by typing vim in a terminal window (or gvim for graphical mode). The first thing you'll need to learn about is the concept of modes.



  • Insert (to type text)

  • Command (to issue commands)

  • Ex (to issue colon commands)

  • Visual (to select text visually)

Tutorials and full documentation are available at the Vim website.



3. Netbeans

Free, relatively lightweight, low learning curve and a full IDE. This is just a slice of what Netbeans has to offer. I tried and liked Netbeans, and it is one of the tools that I turn to for my own needs. Netbeans is cross platform, so will run under Windows and Mac OS X as well as Linux.

There is support for Java and a slew of other languages and developers hosting their open-source projects on have access to integrated instant messaging and issue tracking. Netbeans has fairly extensive collection of plugins in addition to documentation and support at their website.

To install Netbeans, download from their website. The package is also available under the synaptic package manager in Ubuntu Linux, though it will not be the latest release.



4. Bluefish

Bluefish is my primary editor. It's lightweight, has support for remote file editing and is both powerful and streamlined enough to support the majority of my web development needs. Like the other editors, Bluefish supports editing multiple file types and loads in an instant. One important thing to note about Bluefish, is that it is supposed to use 30 to 45% less memory than other editors.

The winners for me were the project features, which allows you to open multiple files and keep them organized, and also remote editing. Download files and installation instructions will guide you through the setup.



5. Geany

Geany isn't a text editor but an extremely lightweight IDE. Geany is an open source software that will run on any flavor of Linux, either under KDE or Gnome desktops (as long as you have the GTK2 runtime libraries). Included are a source code editor and compiler for those more interested in application development.

Geany is suited to multiple type of development and also includes basic project management. Download a copy here. Fellow Ubuntu users can install with: sudo apt-get install geany.



6. Aptana

Aptana was one of my early picks for a development tool. At the time, it was difficult to install in Ubuntu and had its fair share of quirks. Ultimately, I decided it was more than I needed at the time. But the latest release may have me taking another look.

Aptana Studio is a complete web development environment so it can handle everything from basic HTML, CSS to Javascript. And with plugins for Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python and also SQL Connections, this is much more than a simple text editor.

Some have lamented certain instability with some Linux distributions. Download a copy here and a large community will be able to assist you with support. Java is also required.



7. Quanta Plus

Quanta Plus is a full web development environment and runs on the KDE desktop. As I run Gnome, I haven't had the opportunity to test this tool like some of the others.

Quanta gives you true WYSIWYG development. Those familiar with Dreamweaver will be happy to see the split view (virtual preview layout), where you can view code and then the actual page in separate windows. One of its only documented issues is the lack of SVN support for version control.

This package may be already included with the KDE desktop and you may also download or install via synaptic package manager in Ubuntu. Documentation Wiki here.



Honorable Mention

The list of editors we've covered is by no means exhaustive. Other contenders you may want to review include Kompozer, Eclipse, and jEdit.


Final Thoughts on Editors

Each of these tools has its advantages and disadvantages. While I'll refrain from engaging in a debate about which is best, I will point out that variety is one of the benefits of developing under the Linux platform. To stay abreast of latest web design trends and tricks, visit Smashing Magazine.

I hope with this introduction, you have identified some tools that you'd like to try. All that's left now is to load a few, put them through some testing and decide what works best for you. If there is another tool that wasn't mentioned here. Feel free to chime in with a comment touting our favorite editor.

For more information about how to gain new software development skills and tips for pursuing a career in software development check out our other blog posts.

Ready to test your skills in Linux? See how they stack up with this assessment from Smarterer. Start this Linux test now

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Veronica Henry

Veronica Henry is a writer, web developer and tech guru. Her 20 year IT career came to an end when her inner writer and entrepreneur inexplicably besieged her to give it all up. She is a self-proclaimed girl-geek and linux convert, who has held MCSE, GSEC and PMP certifications. In her dreams, she is a international best-selling sci-fi and fantasy author, but in the meantime, she now spends her days writing, managing her websites and wrecking havoc on her Ubuntu laptop.