Software installation

What used to be one of the most troublesome aspects is nowadays one of the greatest advantages of almost every Linux distribution: software installation and updating. Xubuntu and Ubuntu are no different.

The problem used to be that, in order to install one application, you needed to install a lot of other software (dependencies) in order to get it to work, which meant a lot of work just to install that single application. On top of that, the installation of that application and its dependencies wasn’t a matter of double-clicking an icon – no, you had to open a terminal window, move to the location of the installation files, type ./configure, find out what software you were missing, then… Let’s just say it was a lot of work ;)

The developers of Debian, the Linux distribution on which Ubuntu is based (on which Xubuntu is based ;) ), thought of a solution: they’d bundle the application in so-called packages in which they could store a lot of information about that software, such as which other packages it needed. They then created an application called apt (Advanced Packaging Tool) which could automatically download and install the package and all the packages marked as its dependencies! This is often referred to as package management.

Along with solving the problem of dependencies, this solution had a few other advantages. For one, since apt-get would by default download the packages from one location in control of the Debian developers, you could be quite sure that they were free of viruses. The biggest advantage, however, was that apt-get could check for updates to all packages at once, meaning it takes just one action to get the latest version available of every single application you had installed!

There were downsides too, though. For example, the Debian developers are unable to create a package for every piece of software that is available for Linux (According to Wikipedia, though, Debian has over 26 000 packages, so most of the popular applications are there ;) ). Furthermore, Debian’s package management system wasn’t the only one: Red Hat‘s Red Hat Package Manager is an example of another popular packaging method. Ubuntu uses Debian’s method; however, since Ubuntu’s goals differ from Debian’s, they provide the packages from a different location, which means that you cannot just install the packages made for Debian (though often it is possible). However, as Ubuntu can often copy Debian’s packages with very little modification, they offer about 23 000 packages.

As a result of these different methods in different distributions, an application cannot just offer “a Linux version” – at most they will allow you to download “the source” which you can install in the old and painful way. You can see this on the download page of Wormux where they link to a special page with instructions on installing it on many different Linux distributions.

Though there are many efforts like Autopackage, PackageKit, klik, glick, Smart Package Manager, Zero install and OBLISK, the native tools are still preferable.

As for Debian’s method, a graphical tool called Synaptic was also developed, and if that wasn’t enough, the Ubuntu developers also created the tool Add/Remove… (or gnome-app-install) which made the installation of packages even easier. As per Will’s request I’ll guide you through the basic process of package installation on Xubuntu and Ubuntu, and of course, if you have any questions you can leave a comment.

Software sources

The central place for configuring your package management is in Applications->System->Software Sources. As the name says, this application lets you configure the software sources (repositories): the place where Xubuntu downloads all the packages from. By default only a small portion of all available software is enabled. For full access to all 23 000 packages from the Ubuntu repositories you will want to enable the community maintained open source software, proprietary drivers for devices (not open source) and software restricted by copyright and legal issues (this includes e.g. support for playing MPEG videos which Xubuntu is not allowed to ship by default worldwide).



Then there’s the Third Party Software tab, which allows you to enable non-official repositories such as the Personal Package Archives by members of the Ubuntu community. Such third-party repositories often give you a line like:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/jani/ubuntu gutsy main

By clicking Add you can enter such a line and then you have access to all the packages provided in that third-party repository. Note that it is recommended that you stick to the official Ubuntu repositories since these repositories might install newer versions of certain packages which can break other packages, or they might not support newer versions of Ubuntu and Xubuntu which might cause problems when you want to upgrade to a newer version.



These third-party repositories often provide you with their GPG-key, which you can add in the Authentication tab in order to confirm that you trust them. Whenever you update the list of packages from that repository, Xubuntu will check whether this key is still available so as to know it is still the same person that provides the packages.



In the Updates tab you can configure which updates you want and how often you want updates to be checked for. Obviously it is highly recommended that you enable the security updates, and you’ll most likely also want the recommended updates. The proposed updates are updates that haven’t yet been thoroughly checked. Unsupported updates can provide you with newer versions of applications that also provide new features, which were only packaged for newer versions of Xubuntu.



The last tab, Statistics, might not provide direct benefit to you, but it allows you to automatically submit anonymous information about which packages you have installed and how often you use your applications. Statistics are then made available at http://popcon.ubuntu.com/ where they can help the developers and packagers.



Add/Remove…

Ubuntu’s Add/Remove… tool is a great way for you to discover new software to install (Applications->System->Add/Remove...). Applications are sorted in categories and come with an extensive description about what it does. There are also plans to expand this tool’s capabilities to show screenshots, reviews and more, but for now, you’ll have to do with this ;)

In the top corner on the right-hand side, you’ll see a drop-down menu. This menu is a quick way to configure the software sources – again, to have access to the widest available range of software, you’ll want to select “All available applications” here. Clicking Preferences in the bottom left-hand side will take you to the Software Sources configuration window.

You can easily find new applications by searching using the input field at the top. For example, a search for “Firewall” will turn up a list of Firewalls. Installation and uninstallation of applications is easy too: just check or uncheck the checkbox in front of an application’s name, and when you’ve selected all desired changes you click Apply Changes in the bottom right-hand side.



Synaptic

A more advanced tool is Synaptic (Applications->System->Synaptic Package Manager). By clicking the Search button on top you can search for applications: if you already know a package’s name I recommend you to just search on Name as it is notably faster than Description and Name.



Once you have found the package you want to install or uninstall, you can click the checkbox in front of its name. You can then “mark” a package for a certain action, which won’t be performed until you click Apply on top.





If a package has dependencies you do not yet have installed, Synaptic will ask you whether you also want to mark those packages for installation.



Once you click Apply on top, Synaptic will give you an overview of all the package it will install and uninstall. Once you click Apply again it will take care of the installation and notify you when it’s done.



Gdebi

Unfortunately, sometimes a package is just not in the repository. However, an application might still provide you with a package that you might want to install by hand. Or perhaps you want to install an application from the popular site GetDeb.net which, for example, packages a lot of games not available in the Ubuntu repositories. Or perhaps you want to install a package you downloaded from packages.ubuntu.com, which provides all the packages from the Ubuntu repositories, after you transferred them to a computer without internet connection.

For this, Xubuntu comes with the Gdebi Package Installer. Gdebi will be opened when you double-click on a .deb file (the package). It can also download and install dependencies – all it takes is a click on the Install button on top.



Conclusion

Whenever a newer version of a package is available in one of your software sources, you will be notified that an update is available and asked whether you want to install it, or perhaps it will automatically install it in the background, depending on what you set.

As you can see, software installation in Xubuntu and Ubuntu is extremely user-friendly. After having used it for a while, you start to wonder how other people get by checking the websites of every application they want to install or update ;)

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10 Responses to “Software installation”


  1. 1 Will Branch 31 December 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Hey, Thanks a lot for this guide. I’ll try this out soon and give you some feedback.

  2. 2 Nilotpal 8 January 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Great article. Only one quibble, it will go to the backpages once you add posts to your blog.

  3. 3 Vincent 9 January 2008 at 10:08 am

    Nilotpal, I’m not sure exactly what you mean, but if it’s a problem of the software (WordPress) then unfortunately I cannot help it, as I do not have the money to host this blog on its own domain…

  4. 4 Papa 28 January 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Nice how-to, Vincent !!

  5. 5 Donnie 13 April 2013 at 10:22 am

    Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this web site before but after going through a few of the articles I realized it’s new
    to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely pleased I discovered it and I’ll be
    bookmarking it and checking back frequently! Donnie,

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  6. 6 Tiberiu 1 July 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Hi Vincent, I found your article just as I am willing to update the operating systems on my machines. After several failed attempts in the past, I am willing to give Linux another go. The more recent versions of Ubuntu (Kubuntu, Xubuntu) installed from a distribution CD in the shops seem promising. Xubuntu is my favourite now after a week of playing. It’s boot and shut down time is fantastic! I always wanted a computer that boots and switches off like a tv-set. Seriously! But I pulled my hair trying to install the Essentials tools. It kept saying Checkinstall is not available. I located it, it’s there, I copied to a local folder under home, changed its privileges to 777 (to be on the safe side as previous permission error messages were shown.) I now get a bug error message. Something not defined in the stdin.h file if I remember correctly. Anyway, do you think it is likely that the distributed CD (by Linux Format high street magazine) is corrupted? What tools do you recommend as essentials, useful and nice to have when using Linux – Xubuntu? Do you have some reliable sources website I can get those from? Please prevent me from purchasing Windows 7!
    Thanks a lot for your insightful article!

    • 7 Vincent 1 July 2013 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Tiberiu,

      First of all, keep in mind that I have not updated this blog in a long time, so content might be outdated.

      As for software installation: I have no idea what “Essentials tools” is. Keep in mind that software you want to install on Xubuntu needs to be written for Xubuntu (or Ubuntu) — Windows software will not work.

      Furthermore, the main way to install software in Xubuntu is through using the Software Center. As far as I can see you can open this by clicking in the top left-hand corner menu, and clicking Ubuntu Software Center in there. There you can find all available software and install whatever you like. It also provides a list of Top Rated applications to find ones you might like.

      If you need any more help, feel free to ask!


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