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Installing and running software is surprisingly easy with Ubuntu. Simply use the built in application search tools to locate an application title. Then install and enjoy it. Ubuntu like other distros has more than one way to locate, install and run popular Linux software. This article will share some of those approaches and provide insight on how each of those approaches work.
Ubuntu Software Center for installing Ubuntu software
Despite its bloat, the Ubuntu Software Center was a major win for newer Linux users. Borrowing the software discovery idea from Linspire's now defunct Click 'N Run Warehouse (CNR), the Software Center provided both an easy means of discovery along with easy software installation. Other benefits of the software center included reviews, screenshots and the ability to purchase proprietary software. DVD playback and games were some of the software options available to Ubuntu Software Center users.
As time went on, Ubuntu users began looking elsewhere to install software. This was especially true as alternative software centers became prevalent on other distributions. These days, the Software Center has been replaced on Ubuntu Unity edition by Gnome Software.
Gnome Software for installing Ubuntu software
On the surface, the Gnome Software tool does a good job with software discovery and installation. Sometimes I've had issues trying to run updates with it though. On the plus side, Gnome Software loads quickly and provides quick access to new software titles by simply browsing categories of interest.
One thing I'd like to see for Gnome Software is a greater emphasis on featuring new and exciting software. This was an area that the older Ubuntu Software Center did a better job with. Also, purchasing proprietary applications isn't supported in Gnome Software. A clear win for FoSS advocates, but disappointing for anyone wishing to buy stuff like VueScan or TurboPrint from within Gnome Software.
Synaptic for installing Ubuntu software
When using different software center type applications to install new applications, you may have noticed that locating individual library(lib) packages is not always possible. The best application for locating missing libraries on Ubuntu is Synaptic. Not only is it easy to use, but you can easily install multiple packages at once.
Another benefit to Synaptic is that you can add software repositories, add a CD with additional Ubuntu software or even fix broken packages. And finally, you can use Synaptic to prevent a package from upgrading. This is a useful feature when you have a package in which the update has a known bug that you would prefer to avoid.
In terms of using a graphical interface to manage packages on Ubuntu, Synaptic is tough to beat. While it may lack the newbie friendliness of other GUI options, it's vastly more powerful and allows for greater control over your software package management.
Apt for installing Ubuntu software
This is My preferred method of handing packages is to use apt. For example, I can use "sudo apt search package-name" to find the software I'm looking for. If it's available, I can then make sure I'm getting the latest version of the package to be installed by updating first. Now that I have the full package name from the search query and it's updating from the update comment, I can install the package with "sudo apt install package-name."
Apt offers similar functionality found in Synaptic such as package repair, installing, removing and reinstalling software. Learning how to use apt is highly recommended for new Ubuntu users as it will mean even f you're stuck at a command prompt, you're able to successfully manage your Ubuntu packages.
Gdebi and dpkg for installing Ubuntu software
When dealing with deb packages on Ubuntu, the two best approaches for installing the packages are to use dpkg or gdebi. Using dpkg is done from the command line and can offer functionality beyond merely installing compatible deb packages. Reconfiguring previously installed software using the reconfigure command is possible. It's a powerful way to install deb packages and see any relevant errors that might crop up.
For most people, using gdebi with Ubuntu is preferred. Light-weight, easy to use since you only need double click on a deb package and gdebi does the rest of the work. Once activated, gdebi checks the package contents, dependencies and then installs the selected package without any extra work. It's very easy to use.
On those rare occasions where gdebi runs into an error due to a dependency error (usually when using a package for the wrong Ubuntu version), gdebi gives you a clear indication of the missing library or file.
PPAs for installing Ubuntu software
As great as the existing package repositories found on a default Ubuntu installation are, fact is they don't always have all the software you're looking for. To address this, some Ubuntu users create and support a package repository called PPAs (personal package archives). These are not Ubuntu official and are not widely publicized. As convenient as they can be, they can also potentially be a security risk as no one outside of the PPA's creator can say if they're safe or not.
Security aside, PPAs are added to Ubuntu easily using the command line or from the Software and Updates settings in Ubuntu. Once added, the contents of each added PPA are made available by updating your repositories with the update tool and then installing the desired software.
Software Boutique for installing Ubuntu software
Created by the folks behind Ubuntu MATE as part of the Welcome utility, the Software Boutique is perhaps the best approach for newer Linux users to discover what Ubuntu has to offer. Unlike other Software installation tools, it's without a doubt the simplest approach to navigating and installing Ubuntu software available. It's categorized in such a way that software discovery is very easy as well.
One of the biggest advantages with the Software Boutique is that it has the ability to update itself (giving you the latest software possible), and has pre-vetted PPA access included. It also provides simple repair tools should something go wrong. And lastly, you can install a number of software managers from the boutique as well if you prefer. After all, the boutique is all about choice.
Snap packages to for discovering Ubuntu software
I'm on the fence about using snap packages as I think it's still very early. Don't get me wrong, the idea of being able to install the latest software without needing the latest release of Ubuntu is indeed quite appealing. At this point, my issue is with availability of popular titles and the ongoing competition with snap alternatives. Asking developers to package stuff in yet another way is being met with mix emotions it seems.
The advantages of using snap packages are fair. Always having the latest release of software packaged as a snap is quite an advantage. Plus, you're able to update your individual snaps or upgrade them all from the command line if you want. Snaps can be used with any distro that supports them, which places it in direct competition with Flatpak.
Backing up your Ubuntu software and fixing errors
I want to make sure you're aware of how to properly backup your software. If you're merely wanting to backup relevant configuration files, then backing up your ~/.config and ~/.local will usually do it. But what about avoiding the re-downloading of countless applications? There are two approaches to this.
The first approach uses the command line and the dpkg --get-selections command. This allows you to backup a list of your installed applications and restore the applications later if you need to on a clean Ubuntu installation. The second approach is a bit more intuitive and also makes allowances for those of you using PPAs. Simply install Aptik and backup the applications you choose.
And finally, we arrive at the point where we look at fixing software installation errors. Some of the two most common among them are errors indicating that you're unable to update due to /var/lib/dpkg/lock or a corrupt package. For the first, doing a sudo rm /var/lib/dpkg/lock will unlock dpkg so you can update things successfully. As for dealing with a broken or corrupt package installation, try doing a sudo apt-get -f install. Both of these options will fix 99% of the problems you face when installing Ubuntu software. For aborting a failed snap package installation, try using sudo snap abort package-name.
So what say you? Do you have a favorite means of backing up your software? Maybe you have tips used on other distros that might benefit Ubuntu users? Whatever it may be, hit the Comments and let's hear it.