Living free with Linux: Round 2

Linux installation issues bedeviled Preston's first foray into the OS. After getting lots of advice on how to solve his problems, he reports on the results.

The Update Manager is best used for updating the system rather than any software you've subsequently downloaded.

The Update Manager is best used for updating the system rather than any software you've subsequently downloaded.

In the past, users had to muck around with command lines to install Linux software, and it's perfectly possible to do that -- if you're a glutton for punishment. And in some instances, the command line may be the only way to install the software. But in the vast majority of cases, software built directly into Linux handles all the packaging and installation details.

Now, all the files and information required to install the software are contained in a "package." A package manager, which comes with the OS, maintains a relationship with the online file repositories and does all the work of finding and/or updating software so that you don't have to go out and find software or updates yourself.

With that as a brief background, we're ready to take a look at how to find and install new software.

Installing and updating software

In my article, I described my immense frustration in trying to install a piece of software I came across on the Web. Ultimately, it required downloading a file archive, unpacking the archive and trying, through hit-and-miss methods, to figure out how to install it. I finally succeeded -- almost accidentally.

Mucking around with archives and the command line, multiple people told me, was not the way to go. Instead, it's a much better bet to use the package manager -- in my case, the Synaptic Package Manager, a built-in application for installing, updating and uninstalling software in Ubuntu. Before I explain how to use the Synaptic Package Manager, though, I need to say a little more about how Linux handles packages and repositories.

There are four different ways to get access to repositories in order to install and upgrade software in Linux. You can use the Synaptic Package Manager, use Add/Remove, use the Update Manager, or fool around with a command-line program called apt. (I won't cover apt in this piece, because it's simply too confusing for newbies; even many experienced Linux experts stay away from it.)

The Synaptic Package Manager is the most powerful of these tools. With it, you can install, remove, configure or upgrade software packages; browse, sort and search a list of programs to install; manage software repositories; or upgrade the whole system. Think of it as the Swiss Army Knife of Ubuntu program management.

Although the Synaptic Package Manager is more fully featured and offers more software to install, Add/Remove is for those who want something simple to use and don't care about the widest range of software.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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