Open Source

Five tips for easy Linux application installation

These days, installing apps on a Linux system is relatively painless -- but there are still a few things that trip up the unwary or inexperienced user. Jack Wallen offers some basic pointers for avoiding installation glitches.

Most people don't realize how easy it is to install applications on modern releases of the Linux operating system. As the package managers have evolved into powerful, user-friendly tools, the task of installation has become equally user-friendly. Even so, some users encounter traps that seem to trip them up at every attempt. How can you avoid these traps and be one of those Linux users happily installing application after application? With these five tips, that's how.

1: Get to know your package manager

Probably the single most user-friendly package management system, on any operating system, is the Ubuntu Software Center. This tool is simply an evolution of the typical GUI front end for Linux package management systems. All you have to do is open that tool, search for the application you want to install, mark it for installation, and click Apply. And because there are thousands upon thousands of applications available, you can happily spend hours upon hours finding new and helpful applications to install.

2: Install the necessary compilers

If you have an application thatmust be installed from source, you will need to have the necessary compilers installed. Each distribution uses either a different compiler or a different release of a compiler. Some distributions, such as Ubuntu, make this task simple by having a single package to install (issue the command sudo apt-get install build-essential). Once you have the compiler installed, you can then install applications from source.

3: No .exe allowed

This is one of those concepts that is so fundamental, yet many users don't understand it. The .exe installers are for Windows only. For Linu,x you are looking for extensions such as .deb or .rpm for installation. The only way to install .exe files on a Linux machine is with the help of WINE, but most new users should probably steer clear of this tool. If you find a binary file online (one that works with your distribution), you should be prompted by your package manager if you want to install the downloaded file. If you have WINE installed,and your system is configured correctly, you will prompted (with the help of WINE) to install even .exe files.

4: Understand dependencies

This is probably one of the trickiest aspects of installing packages in Linux. When using a package manager (such as PackageKit, Synaptic, or Ubuntu Software Center) the dependencies are almost always taken care of automatically. But if you are installing from source, you will have to manually install the dependencies. If you don't get all the dependencies installed (and installed in the correct locations), the application you are installing will not work. And if you try to force the installation (without installing all dependencies), the application will not work properly.

5: Always start with the package manager

There are several reasons why distributions use package managers. Outside of user-friendliness, the single most important reason for package managers is to ensure system cohesiveness. If you use a patchwork of installation methods, you can't be sure that your system is aware of everything installed. This is also true for tools like Tripwire, which monitor changes in your system. You want to be as uniform and as standardized as you can in your installations. To that end, you should ALWAYS start with your package manager. Only when you can't find a precompiled binary for your distribution should you turn to installing from source. If you remain consistent with this installation practice, your system will run smoother longer. If you mix and match, you might find some applications are not aware of other applications, which can really cause dependency issues.

Simple and friendly

Users do not have to fear installing applications on Linux. By following some simple guidelines, anyone (regardless of experience level) can have an easy time managing their Linux desktop. With powerful, accessible package managers, nearly every modern Linux distribution offers the user every tool they need to add, remove, and update their applications with ease and speed.

Additional resources


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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