foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

See this? Easy software install under Linux

, posted: 16-Oct-2007 10:14

Note: This was written especially for those of you who are still on Windows, have considered Linux, but are worried about complexities, command lines and other things you'd rather not have to deal with. There is good news for you: It's neither complex, nor do you need the command line. The example we use here is the installation of new software, always something that can go wrong easily and is complex and cumbersome, right? Well, read on and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised...

Even in this day and age you can sometimes still hear the echo of the old FUD: Installing software under Linux is difficult! Really? Maybe that was the case in the past, but it certainly doesn't hold for modern Linux distributions anymore. In fact, I would content that for most people, installing software under Linux is now easier than under Windows. The installation requires a few less mouse clicks under Linux, but that is not even all that relevant.


More important than just the click-count is how modern Linux distributions allow everyone to choose from a huge number of available packages and applications, easily browsed, sorted in categories, small descriptions with each of them. You don't need to hunt for them on the Internet, or come across them by accident. You also don't have to download them from more-or-less trustworthy web-sites. Instead, a huge selection of very good applications is available in centrally managed repositories, just there for you to peruse and select from. And once you have selected the ones you want, it just takes one or two clicks for all of them to be installed. Once installed, they are all automatically updated whenever any new updates for them are available.

What can you find in those repositories? Quality open source software, ranging from small utilities and desktop eye candy, all the way to complete and powerful office productivity suites, CAD or DTP programs, software development tools, graphics and multi-media software, games, educational software and more. There is even some closed-source software from various vendors available now as well.

For those of you who have used a modern desktop-oriented Linux before - such as Ubuntu - this is all going to be an old hat. But I think you will agree: Once you have done software installation and management in this style for a while, you really don't ever want to go back to any other way. However, for those of you who are still on Windows, are toying with the thought of Linux, but are weary of the 'complexity' of it all... well, this is for you.

A walk through
Note: You can click on any of the following images to see a larger version of the picture, which will open in a separate browser window.
I use Ubuntu, so what you see in the example below is their way of doing things. Since it's currently the most popular desktop Linux distribution, this is probably not a bad example, though. But other Linux distros offer similar methods for software maintenance as well.

add_remove_1So, let's start with a typical Ubuntu desktop. In the upper left corner, you normally see a simple pull-down menu. Here you can see the categories of the various applications that are already installed on my laptop. At the bottom of the pull-down menu, you see an 'Add/Remove' option. Let's select that and see what we get.add_remove_2

The 'Add/Remove' application opens. It briefly checks which applications are present on the system. It can then display all the available apps and indicates with a small tick-mark which of those you have already installed. You can see that this is all organised into individual categories. But you can also display 'all' in a large, flat list if you want to.

In the upper right corner we can now select the types of applications that are offered to us: Either all available oadd_remove_3nes, only open source ones, or ones provided by third parties. A further selection, which is interesting for corporate users is the 'Supported Ubuntu Applications'. These are the ones for which you can get technical support and maintenance contracts with Canonical, the company behind the commercial Ubuntu offerings. In a previous discussion on this forum here, we were wondering for which applications one can get this kind of support. The answer was right in front of me, all the while. Duh!
Having made my selection for the category, I can now browse all the available applications. Clicking on any one of them brings up a small description and links to the project's home page. Here I have selected fractal imaging application. I simply check the tick-box. This process can be repeated with multiple applications.

add_remove_5Time to install! I click on the 'Apply' button and get one more dialog in which I can review my 'shopping cart' of selected applications. You can see that I have three apps marked for installation. If I would have also selected some to be uninstalled, they would appear in this list as well.add_remove_6

The download and installation begins. I can see a progress bar for each individual package download. Very important: If there are any prerequisites, such as libraries or other packages which are not present on my system yet, they will automatically and without any further prompting be installed as well. Also, for the vast majority of all applications that can be installed this way, I do not have to agree to any special licenses. Therefore, once I have clicked 'apply', the install will complete without any intervention on my part.

add_remove_7Once the install is completed, I am seeing a friendly reminder about the categories that the applicationsadd_remove_8 were installed in, so that I can easily find them in my application pull down menu later on. And as you can see from the very last screenshot, they are all there, at the advertised place.

So, as you can see this was not at all complicated. Installing additional desktop applications truly is a snap.

How about the command line?

Linux being Linux, there is of course also a way to do all of this from the command line as well. The command line gives you even greater control, and also access to non-desktop oriented packages, such as servers, compilers, libraries and such. For convenience, there is also a graphical tool wrapped around the command line functionality. But if you are looking for desktop applications and want it to just work then sticking to the 'Add/Remove' functionality we have just seen in action will be a safe bet for you.


Hopefully, this little run through has shown you that software installation under modern Linux distros can be easy and efficient. If you were nervous about complexities and command-line-phobia has held you away from Linux so far, you can confidently go ahead and try it now. Nothing complicated about it, at all.

Other related posts:
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Smooth sailing with the Karmic Koala
A Linux distro for Cuba

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 16-Oct-2007 12:56

Nice tutorial foobar

It would be nice if you go further giving tips on installing third party applications, drivers like nVidia dirvers, Skype. The recent Gutsy Gibbon Add Remove has the functionality to install Firefox Plugins too. Dont forget that

The most difficult part for people in Linux is installing third party applications which are either with a third party repository or they are proprietary.

And also I found openSUSE 10.3's repos and tool really better than Ubuntu's Add/Remove. I will be soon writing about that in my blog along with some video

Author's note by foobar, on 16-Oct-2007 14:05

chakkaradeep: Yes, I know about the additional capabilities with Gutsy. But with this post here I just wanted to show (just in general) that software installation on Linux doesn't have to be complicated. For that, I simply wanted to talk about normal desktop apps, nothing special. I'm looking forward to Gutsy already, but it will be a while before I will have the time to upgrade my laptop.

In the 'preferences' section of the 'Add/Remove' program you can select the additional repositories you would like to include. And I also find that many apps these days provide a Ubuntu .deb package, which is fortunately also easily installed. You then loose the advantage of being connected to a repository, of course, but at least it's still quite easy to get the software installed.

In what way is the openSUSE repos and tools better? Just curious, it's been a very long time since I ran SUSE.

Comment by chakkaradeep, on 16-Oct-2007 14:15

foobar, I found selecting repos were that easy, and they had a big list of repos called Community Repos List under which I can enable/disable them. Currently am bit busy with my Windows box, when am done with it, I would give links to some screenshots which shows them.

I have few now here

Comment by deadcabbit, on 16-Oct-2007 18:30

Another graphical walkthrough: sorry, but who needs another one? I clicked on the link because I read "software install on Linux" - but all I get is Ubuntu (which I really like though). But no, other distributions are not alike, think about emerge, pacman, rpm, slapt-get, netpkg, pkg-src etc. etc.

Comment by David Legg, on 16-Oct-2007 21:36

Nice page, foobar. I guess Windows users would be helped to be less scared if they could also see hwo easy the initial installation from CDs can be too.

Comment by Ali, on 18-Oct-2007 03:49

I think this is not the best solution and the best way of installing software is in Windows. It is not acceptable that to install a program i must connect to the internet. I want to install my program by the unconnected way; i have the program in a flash or cd, some clicks and all the job is done. Really the installation of programs in Linux sucks! And Linux won't be largely adopted unless it implements the installation of program like he windows way!!!

Author's note by foobar, on 18-Oct-2007 08:59

Ali: I think your comments just illustrate your lack of knowledge about 'the Linux way'. Firstly, how did you get your program onto your flash card or the CD? Unless you bought it, you probably downloaded it. So that's the Internet for you right there.

Secondly. what you are really downloading through the method I described in my posting is a .deb file (in Debian based distributions), or an .rpm file in a number of others. You can just double click on them and it will all install itself. It's just that the 'Add/Remove' program I mentioned gives you a great list of these .deb files to download. And all the .deb file magic takes place behind the scenes.

There is absolutely nothing that stops you from just putting .deb (or .rpm) files on a CD or a flash and have them double-clickable and then install just as easily as your oh-so-wonderful 'Windows way'.

Author's note by foobar, on 18-Oct-2007 09:10

chakkaradeep: Actually, it is very easy to add new repositories for Ubuntu as well. You just click on the 'preferences' in the 'Add/Remove' program, for example. You can just click 'Add' and off you go. However, I haven't seen a 'huge list' of community repositories for it, yet. So that might be an area worth improving for Ubuntu. I think the fact that there doesn't seem to be such a list (or at least it's not that heavily promoted) might be indicative of the Ubuntu distro trying to keep people with the more official repos in order to avoid possible problems with incompatibility. I think it might trade stability for repository richness here. Just a speculation.

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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