If you’re used to the Microsoft Windows environment, it may not be immediately obvious how to install software on a Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx system. Ubuntu has a thriving software ecosystem, but none of that does you any good if you can’t figure out how to install the blasted programs on your system. SETUP.EXE files don’t (usually) work on Ubuntu, after all.
However, it’s pretty easy to install software on a Ubuntu system; there are four basic ways to do it. We’ll go over them one by one. But first, you need to understand the concept of a “software repository”.
Canonical, Ubuntu’s parent company, maintains an online storehouse of software compiled to work specifically on Ubuntu systems. This storehouse is called a “software repository”. Most of the time, when you want to install a software program on Ubuntu, you obtain the software’s packages from the repository.
That said, here are the four basic ways of installing a program on a Ubuntu system.
(Note that you have to have an admin account on the Ubuntu system to install programs; the default account you create during installation counts as one.)
Use The apt-get Command In A Terminal Window.
In this context, “apt” stands for Advanced Packaging Tool, and it is used to install software from the Terminal command line. If you wanted to install, say, the VLC Media Player program, you would use this command:
sudo apt-get install vlc
(sudo lets you run commands as the root user, which you need to do to install software.)
Once you enter your password to authenticate, apt-get will download and install VLC for you. If you change your mind, you can use this command to uninstall VLC:
sudo apt-get remove vlc
Installing software from the command line with apt-get is quick & easy. However, many new Linux users are intimidated by the command line (they shouldn’t be), and you have to know the exact name of the package you want to install. Fortunately, if you want to install packages using a graphical interface, there are a number of ways to do it, starting with:
Synaptic Package Manager
Synaptic Package Manager is basically a graphical interface for the apt-get command. You can launch it by going to the System Menu, to Administration, and clicking on Synaptic Package Manager. Enter your password to confirm, and you will have access to Synaptic.
(Note that you cannot use apt-get while Synaptic is running, since Synaptic locks several directories that apt-get needs to run.)
Synaptic’s big advantage over apt-get is that it lists all the packages available in the software repositories, and you can search for packages by name. Like, if you want to install Virtualbox, but don’t know the name of the package, you can search for any packages with “Virtualbox” in their name, and find what you need in short order. Synaptic also lets you easily and quickly upgrade all the installed packages on your system to their latest versions.
Synaptic is pretty simple to use, but it still can be daunting to new users. Fortunately, there’s an even easier way:
The Ubuntu Software Center
The Ubuntu Software Center first turned up in Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala, and it’s been improved considerably in Lucid Lynx. To access the Ubuntu Software Center, go to the Applications menu. You’ll find the Ubuntu Software Center link at the bottom of the menu.
The Ubuntu Software Center sorts software into simple categories, along with clear descriptions and screenshots of each package (unlike Synaptic, whose descriptions tends towards the short and cryptic). It also includes a Featured Applications category, where some of the best applications for Ubuntu are featured. You can also search for applications, both through the entire catalog and within specific categories.
Installing applications is a breeze; merely select the application you want, and click Install. Like Synaptic, Software Center links up to the Ubuntu repositories, and will download and install the applications of your choice.
Ubuntu Software Center is far and away the easiest way to install software on Ubuntu.
However, not all software is available in the Ubuntu repositories. Sometimes you can obtain Ubuntu software prepackaged in what’s called a “deb package”. (The name comes from Debian, the older Linux distribution that serves as the foundation for Ubuntu.) Installing deb packages is pretty easy; merely download it to your computer, double-click on the file, and click install. Enter your password to authenticate, and the deb package will install to your system.
There are other ways to install software on your system (compiling from source, Wine, etc.), but for most new users, these four ways will allow the installation of a wide variety of software.