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.

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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


You'll always get better responses if you start a new question from scratch, instead of piggy-backing on a two-year-old 'zombie' discussion. Try reposting this in the 'Q&A' forum. The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here:;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer".


I am new to Ubuntu and Linux and having a learning curve to it with the use of books, Google, and of course TechRepublic. I have an older custom built system that I recycled for learning Ubuntu / Fedora / Ubuntu Server, and on this system I have 3 hard drives and each is found by Ubuntu Server (current version I have loaded at this time). I have been able to download packages through FireFox and the Ubuntu Software center, but this is my issue. Unlike Windows I am not given the choice where the application is installed at, for example when I install Itunes or Media Monkey on a Windows system I can choose which hard drive and the folder in which I wan to install a package as I have 4 hard drives on my Windows 7 machine and I keep one hard drive just for MP3, Itunes, Video, and other Multi Media. I have one hard drive that I use only for Labs, Vmware, GNS3 and the storage of Cisco IOS Images. I want to do the same in Ubuntu as the /boot drive is limited in space and I want to make sure that new applications are installed on one of the other Hard Drives and in folders that I create and can find easily like with Clementine and the music or videos I might use with it. How can I do that in Ubuntu /Fedora/ or other Linux OS?


I don't normally endorse products, but I have to jump in and suggest Crossover instead of Wine... With Wine you have a powerful toolkit to run (some) Windows applications -- but you'd better have an advanced degree in Windows system internals (and the internal needs of your apps) to know just how to tweak your library of real & emulated DLLs, etc. to get things to run properly (if at all). With Crossover, they've done that work for you (in many of the most common cases). You tell it what you want to install, and, if it's on their (long) list of 'known' apps, Crossover will take care of the tweaking for you. I installed my old copy of Office 2000 Premium, and everything installs and runs without a hitch. Great for the few occasions where I need "real MS Office" instead of Gnumeric or Open Office.


Until they fix some of the problems with software center; I am going to stick with Synaptic. One of the annoying problems with software center is that it does not always ask for the administrative password, and when you click on install or remove, it STALLS!!! The way to work around this is to run software center with sudo. Another annoying problem is the slowness involved in removing packages. I wanted to remove 10 installed packages on an older computer, it took MORE than 20 minutes to perform that task. Those packages had to be removed ONE AT A TIME. Then software center continued to constantly re-draw the display after each package was removed. At least with Synaptic, you could check off all of the packages you want to remove (or install) and perform it as a single batch. I like Ubuntu, and have been using it for a few years now; but I honestly wish they would hold off on the M$ like `eye candy` and make it more consistent. When Karmic will shutdown properly when you are logged in as a user, but LUCID AND MAVERICK WILL NOT, these are the sort of annoying things that p---es users off. Right now, when using Lucid, I have to log off as the user, and shutdown from the greeter. With Maverick, I am forced to run the shutdown command from the terminal. Forum searching has indicated that this has been an ongoing issue for some time, yet `Windows like eye candy` appears to be of more importance over reliable and consistent basic functionality. BTW, this is pounded out from a machine that triple boots (Karmic/Lucid and Maverick).