July 13, 2006

Updating and installing software in Ubuntu (Linux.com training videos)

Author: JT Smith

The first video in this pair shows you how to update all the software in your Ubuntu GNU/Linux installation in a single, big gulp. The second video shows you how easy it is to install and remove software with the Synaptic Package Manager.When you update Ubuntu -- or, for that matter, any well-run Linux distribution -- you are not just updating the operating system, but all the software you originally installed along with it, plus any software you added later through your distribution's online software repositories.

When you use Ubuntu -- or Debian, Red Hat, Fedora, SUSE, Mandriva or just about any other "major" distribution out there -- your life is almost always easier if you get most or all of your software through your distribution instead of directly from the people who wrote it, unless you're experimenting in some way or need specialized software not available through your distro (as distributions are often called for short). Two big reasons for sticking to distro-supplied software are:

  • The people managing your distro work hard to make sure all the software they make available to you works well together.
  • Your distro monitors all software it supplies for security patches and other improvements, and includes those improvements, especially the critical security ones, in its distro-wide updates.

There is no similar "upate everything" feature in Windows. A Windows user must not only use Microsoft's update service but must also check all of his or her system's "third party" software and hardware manufacturers' device drivers frequently to make sure they, too, are up to date.

Some GNU/Linux users run specialized, possibly commercial, programs that are not available through their chosen distro, but most distros have a wide-enough range of programs available that there are usually so few of these add-ons in a normal Linux installation that it is easy to monitor them all, and virtually all Linux software developers and commercial Linux software vendors give you automatic notifications of any updates.

Should you update daily?

This question gets an "it depends" answer. GNU/Linux software updates tend to be much more frequent than Windows software updates, in part because most people writing Linux software are very security conscious and fix not only obvious security holes, but also work to fix tiny flaws that might someday become vulnerabilities.

Because of this Linux security obsession, and the frequent updates to which it leads, it often seems like there are more flaws in Linux than in other operating systems. What's really going on, of course, is that you are seeing flaws fixed as soon as they are discovered instead of the developers waiting weeks or months to release security fixes in accordance with an arbitrary schedule.

If you want to keep your system as up to date and secure as possible, you'll want to update it as often as possible, even if that means doing updates every day or at least every time you see that there are updates available for your system, although you'll be reasonably safe -- barring major security problems announced here on Linux.com, on NewsForge, and by other Linux-oriented news outlets -- if you update your system weekly or even monthly.

But updating Ubuntu is so fast and easy that it's no big deal to do it every day or two. You can keep on using your computer while the automatic update routine runs, and only rarely will you need to reboot your computer after an update, although our video demo takes you through as big an update as you're ever likely to see, including a reboot.

Enough talk. Let's do it.

Click to play video

Installing and removing software with the Synaptic Package Manager

Synaptic is an easy "point and click" software manager included with Debian, Ubuntu, MEPIS, and other Debian-related Linux distros. It's so easy to use, once you see how to do it, that the hardest part of installing software in Linux, at first, may be finding the software you want want, since the software names aren't what you're used to in Windows, and because hardly any of these free (remember - we're talking free as in price and free as in freedom here) programs have any ad budgets to make the world aware of them. One place to look for Linux software reviews and announcements is the Linux.com applications section. There are many other places to look, too, but it will take a separate (and rather long) article to list them all.

Synaptic gives you little descriptions of software packages you can read before you download and install them, too, and lists software in topical groups. This is a big help. But why just talk about that feature? Instead, let's look at it -- and learn how to use Synaptic while we're at it.

Click to play video

Previous Linux.com training videos:

Your first Linux experiment

- This group of three short videos shows you how to download GNU/Linux, make a bootable Linux CD, and how to boot Linux on your computer without going through a tedious installation routine. We used Ubuntu for this demonstration, but the steps shown apply to all live CD Linux distributions.

Installing Ubuntu - Two short videos show you how to install Ubuntu GNU/Linux on your hard drive.

About the videos: They're in AVI format, encoded with the free XviD codec, compatible with media players for almost all popular desktop PC operating systems. If your computer does not have the XviD codec installed, you can get it here or through your favorite free operating system's software respository. Windows and Mac users can find easy-to-install XviD binaries here.

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