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.

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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.

If you're looking to only update your system and not looking for new software, you can use the more limited Update Manager, which only checks to see if there are newer versions of what you already have installed in the libraries.

Synaptic Package Manager

The Synaptic Package Manager includes a set of repositories through which you can search for software. You get to it by selecting System --> Administration --> Synaptic Package Manager. Click the Section button to see categories of software and then browse through what's available in the repositories. You can also do a search by clicking the Search button at the top of the page.

Living free with Linux II

Synaptic Package Manager may be the best way to install, update, and remove apps.

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When you find the software you want to install, you click the box next to it, then select Mark for Installation and click Mark from the screen that appears. In some instances, the software you chose may require other software to be installed as well; if that's the case, you'll be told.

After you mark the software you want to install, you'll come to a screen that shows you all the software you've marked for installation. Click Apply at the top of the screen, and a screen appears asking if you want to "apply changes." (Linux sometimes uses the English language in a way that's only marginally associated with common usage.) Click Apply. The software will now be downloaded and installed. The Synaptic Package Manager will also install any software required to run the software you're downloading.

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