Whereas Windows and Mac OS X only have one main method for installing software, Linux offers several alternatives for adding and removing applications, from the command line apt-get command to the use of package managers and software centers.
Despite this, managing applications in Linux is easier than you may think. Whether the issue is understanding installation or overcoming problems with failed installations or poor performance, you will find that Linux is probably better at resolving these problems that Windows or Mac OS.
One of the most popular methods for installing software in Linux is the Resource Package Manager (previously Red Hat Package Manager) or RPM. This utility is designed to make it easier to install software on a Linux box. While there will still be applications that need to be compiled, RPM is one of many solutions that can be used to manage this aspect of installation.
What is particular great about RPM is that it is so easy to use. You’ll find it in many (but not all) Linux distros and its easy to understand user interface – which makes use of the familiar checkbox list – helps the user to quickly add and remove software as required.
If you are using a Linux distro with RPM present, you will find that updating an application that has been installed from the source code isn’t possible – RPM doesn’t know that it is installed. Fortunately there is a way of fixing this, by installing the software again via the command line while invoking rpm.
Once you understand the various ways in which to install software on Linux, you should be able to start looking for great open source applications without worrying about compiling, making directories, etc. RPM, Synaptic Package Manager, Ubuntu Software Center; these are just three of the places where you might find software.
The SOURCES.LIST file is a collection of all repositories that can be used for finding and installing software to your Linux machine. On occasions these repositories are removed or their names are updated; while newer releases of your chosen Linux distro might reflect these changes, this information might not appear on your computer unless you manually add sources.
APT is the name of the package management tool in Debian-based distros of Linux. One such example is the very popular Ubuntu distribution, which uses the Synaptic Package Manager to allow users to find applications and updates for their computer.
If you would rather install software from the command line (or are connected to a server via SSH and have no other choice!) then the apt-get command is used for installing, upgrading and removing software.
There is of course another side to installing software in Linux, using Wine. This is the Windows emulation software for Linux distros which makes it possible for you to install and launch Windows applications. Installing applications will Wine can be tricky…
As well as the Synaptic Package Manager, Ubuntu distros now offer the Ubuntu Software Center. You can think of this as a Linux version of the Apple App Store; it is a collection of free and open source apps that make your computing experience pleasurable, from office software to browsers, chat clients and social networking.
Removing software that you no longer have any interest in using from Ubuntu is simple, particularly if you have installed it via Synaptic Package Manager. Installing with this tool is simply a case of marking software for installation; discarding software is a case of marking it for removal.
Various methods of removing applications in Linux are possible. While using Synaptic Package Manager or RPM should discard any associated files that are not required by other applications, this isn’t always the case, hence Cruft, a tool for finding and discarding unnecessary files.
While these various package managers are all designed to make installing apps easy, Linux users may still run into problems. This is particularly common when installing new apps on older distros, or older apps on new distros, and usually related to issues with the X libraries.
Application management is about much more than adding and removing software, of course. Even Linux computers can fall foul of poorly written software that hogs resources (although this usually happens when running Windows software in Wine), so what better way to keep an eye on things than with a task manager?
Similarly you might wish to keep an eye on your system memory via the command line. Top, vmstat, ps and free are all very useful commands, with top displaying a task manager-style display and vmstat relaying information about memory and processes.
- Screenshot provided by author.