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The Official Ubuntu Book, 3e: Advanced Usage and Managing Ubuntu

Ubuntu is relatively straightforward to set up and use for the common day-to-day types of uses. With time, though, most users want to change their software, add and experiment with other software that Ubuntu has to offer, install and use hardware devices and printers, access remote files, use the famous (and sometimes feared) terminal, and maybe even run some Windows programs. Ubuntu provides many ways to do each of these things. While they are a little more complex than the material covered in previous chapters, the Ubuntu community has worked hard to make them as easy as possible, and this chapter shows you how to do all of them.
This chapter is from the book
  • Adding and Removing Programs and Packages
  • Keeping Your Computer Updated
  • Moving to the Next Ubuntu Release
  • Using and Abusing Devices and Media
  • Configuring a Printer in Ubuntu
  • Graphically Accessing Remote Files
  • The Terminal
  • Working with Windows
  • Summary

AS YOU’VE SEEN SO FAR, Ubuntu is relatively straightforward to set up and use for the common day-to-day tasks. With time, though, most users want to change their software, add and experiment with other software that Ubuntu has to offer, install and use hardware devices and printers, access remote files, use the famous (and sometimes feared) terminal, and maybe even run some Windows programs. Ubuntu provides many ways to do each of these things. While they are a little more complex than the material covered in previous chapters, the Ubuntu community has worked hard to make them as easy as possible, and this chapter shows you how to do all of them.

Adding and Removing Programs and Packages

While Ubuntu already includes most of what people need, sometimes you need something extra, such as a desktop publishing application for school or a game to pass the time. The easiest way to add these is with Add/Remove Applications, which is extremely simple to use but has a few limitations.

Installing and Using Add/Remove Applications

By far the easiest way to install desktop applications is via Add/Remove Applications, available through the Applications menu. Like Synaptic and the other tools discussed in this chapter, Add/Remove Applications installs from the same online repositories. Thus, using one tool will cause the other tools to be able to recognize the same change.

To launch Add/Remove Applications, simply click on the Add/Remove entry at the bottom of the Applications menu as you would for any other program. When it is run for the first time, and occasionally afterward, it will take a few moments to initialize itself and the list of available and installed applications. Once this is complete, you will see the main screen shown in Figure 4-1.

The interface is divided into three parts. On the left is a list of all the various types of applications, laid out in the same way as the menu. Select a category to see a list of all the applications in that category in the upper right. Selecting an application in the upper right section will display a description in the lower right section of what that program does.

In addition to the categories, Add/Remove Applications also allows you to filter by searching. Search results are based on the program name, the package name, or the description of the program. Enter the search term into the text box in the upper right, and it will search as you type. Figure 4-2 shows an example of search bar results.

By default, Add/Remove Applications will show only applications that are supported by Ubuntu (see Appendix B for an explanation of the different components of Ubuntu and how they are supported). While this is a large list, there are even more to find. By changing the option in the box labeled Show in the top, you will be able to see all the programs available to you. When you attempt to install an application that is community supported or deemed restricted, you will be asked to confirm your intention to do so (Figure 4-3).

Additionally, Add/Remove Applications can list proprietary applications, those applications that are not released under a free software or open source license. Change the Show option accordingly, and they will become visible both via the listing and through search. As with any other application, they can be clicked to install, although similar to community-supported applications, you may be asked to confirm your intention to install the application.


You might need to know a few terms before you start, such as words used to describe how the software gets installed on your machine as well as how the system works.

  • APT: Advanced Package Tool, or APT, describes the entire system of online repositories and the parts that download them and install them.
  • Repositories or software channels: In the Ubuntu world, these giant online warehouses of software are divided between official Ubuntu repositories and nonofficial ones.
  • Packages: Applications are stored in packages that not only describe the program you want to install but also tell you what it needs to run and how to safely install and uninstall it.

Installing with Synaptic

Synaptic is a powerful graphical tool called a package manager. While Add/Remove Applications deals with packages that contain applications, Synaptic deals with all packages, including applications, system libraries, and other pieces of software. Changing the system on this level is more difficult but allows more detailed control. For instance, you can choose to install a specific library if you need it for a program not available in a package format.

To find Synaptic, look under the System menu and then the Administration menu. It is listed as Synaptic Package Manager. Launch the task by clicking on the icon, and you will see the main window, as shown in Figure 4-4.

Synaptic is a graphical package manager and works slightly differently than Add/Remove Applications. Unlike Add/Remove Applications, Synaptic deals directly with packages, which allows for a greater level of control while exposing the details of how package management works.

Installing a Package

As with Add/Remove Applications, installing packages with Synaptic is fairly easy. After you find the package you wish to install, click the checkbox to the right of the name of the package and select Mark for Installation. A dialog box may pop up (Figure 4-5) showing you what else needs to be installed—if anything—which you can accept by clicking the Mark button. After you have selected the package(s) you wish to install, click Apply on the Synaptic toolbar to commence installation.

Removing a Package

To remove a package, click on the green box, and choose Mark for Removal. As with installing a package, you may be asked to mark additional packages for removal (Figure 4-6). If you wish to remove all the configuration files too, choose Mark for Complete Removal. After you have selected the packages you wish to remove, click Apply on the toolbar to start the actual process of removing the package.

Finding That Package

So you are looking for a package but don’t know where to start? The fastest and easiest way is to simply click the Search button on the toolbar or type Ctrl-F. That will launch a search dialog box. By default, it searches both the package name and the description, but it can also search just by name or a number of other fields.

If you know what section the package is in, select it in the left pane (you may need to go back to the Sections pane). Select the button in the lower right labeled Sections, and browse through the packages in that section. The upper right pane also has a neat feature called Type-ahead (Figure 4-7).

Simply select any package, and then start typing the first few letters of the package name. The cursor should jump right to that section.

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