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Monday, 23 June 2008 10:14

Installing applications on Linux

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In my last article I talked about changing Linux so that software updates come from your ISPs local Linux mirror, which may not count towards your monthly download allowance. In this article I'll chat about how to install applications.

As loyal reader and commenter Guest pointed out in a comment to my last article, when you change to a local ISP's mirror and then install applications (which are part of your Linux distribution) then they will also not count towards your monthly download allowance.

Windows users are quite used to putting in a CD and clicking on whatever comes up. Alternatively, you can download an exe or msi file from a website and install that. So, how do you install applications in Linux?

When you install Linux on your PC or laptop, it usually has some preloaded applications. Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice, a PDF reader, some basic games, some audio and video players and other things. It is pretty complete as it is, but I have been using Ubuntu for a while and have my own favourite applications for doing things.

I really like VLC as a video player. I use it on Windows and Linux. However, it is not installed in Ubuntu, as Movie Player is the video default application.

For burning CDs and DVDs I like using GnomeBaker, but that too is not installed by default. When I first set up my Ubuntu installation I install these two (and quite a few more applications). So, lets have a look at how to do this. (Hint: it is really easy!)

Continue on to find out how easy it can be!

There are four ways of installing applications on Ubuntu Linux. In this article, I am going to explore two of them. In my next article, I will explore the other two.

Firstly, the simplest way is via Add/Remove. This can be found at the top left side of the screen by clicking on the Applications menu (which is a little like the Windows Start menu) and then going to the bottom, and clicking on Add/Remove.

As it name says, this little program gives you the ability to add and remove applications. Using the inbuilt search functionality, you can also search for a specific application, such as VLC or GnomeBaker. You can also sort by popularity to see what others like using.

It is divided up into useful sub-categories, such as Accessories, which included things like an online comic reader. Education gives you the ability to install learning tools for Chemistry, Physics, Maths and many other subjects. Games, Graphics, Internet, Office, Other, Programming, Sound & Video, System Tools and Universal Access are the other categories.

When you have found what you want, then you simply tick the box next to it and click on Apply Changes in the bottom right corner. You'll need to put in your password as you are making a fundamental change to the system.

If there are multiple files required for the application, it will look after all of those for you. You just sit back and wait for a few moments while the application is downloaded and installed.

If you have changed your Software Sources to your ISPs local Linux mirror (if they have one), then this will be very fast and won't cost you a KB of your monthly download allowance!

One advantage of Linux is that you don't need to reboot to get a newly installed application working. You can start using it straight away. It really is that easy!

To find out about the second way of installing applications, please read onto page 3


The second method is slightly more complex. But not much!

Go to the System menu, then Administration, then Synaptic Package Manager.

Aside: What's a "package"? An open source project might come out with a program, such as OpenOffice or ClamAV. Each distribution will "package" that program in a way that works for them (think of the exe or msi files for Windows. These are just "packages" for Windows). Sometimes the "packaging" process, which includes checking that it works properly can take a few days. The distribution maintainers may have to change small things to make it work optimally. This is why certain "packages" may take a little while to appear for installation in a specific distribution. An example of this is Firefox 3, which took a day or so to appear in Ubuntu.

When installing via Add/Remove and Synaptic Package Manager we are installing the "packages" which the distribution has created for us. So, when you hear someone talking about installing a "package" it's really just another way of saying application.

To use Synaptic, you'll need to put in your password as you are making a fundamental change to the system. Like Add/Remove, you can also search for a particular application or package.

With Synaptic you can search using keywords. If you want a media player but don't know which one, you can just type in "media" or "video" or "music" to search for it. When you have decided which one you want, you simply tick the box and click on Apply. Then sit back for a few moments while it is downloaded and installed.

If you want to install more than one, just tick it, then search again, ticking as you go. At the end when you install, all of the items you have ticked will install. Like Add/Remove, if it needs to download and install other files to work, then it looks after all of them for you.

What's the difference between Method 1 and Method 2? Synaptic has a bit more functionality, in that you can use it to update the system too. Click on Reload, and you'll see a whole lot of little files being downloaded. These is the list of the "packages". It then compares that list against what is installed. Click on Mark All Upgrades and if there are any updates you'll be able to click on Apply. This will update everything on the system.

Uninstalling an application is as simple as finding it, unticking it and clicking Apply.

In the next article, I will explore installing an application (package) that is not in the distribution's repositories. That is, when you search for it, it isn't there. You may be able to download it from a website, but what do you do then? And exactly which package are we to download?

As always, thanks for reading to the end, and feel free to leave a comment or suggestion for an article you'd like to see.

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