For newbies, the prospect of installing software via the command-line might seem a little daunting, but it is in fact very easy, gives you greater flexibility, and most importantly is very fast. When you fire up Synaptic (or your preferred package manager), you are just using a GUI for commands you could be entering in the terminal. While you would still use Synaptic to search for new programs, so you can browse their descriptions and mark for installation a bunch of apps you never knew of before, if you actually know the name of the program you are looking for, it’s actually much quicker to install it via the terminal.
For example, if you wanted to install Mozilla Thunderbird as your preferred email client, in Synaptic you would have to search for “thunderbird“, select it from the list of results and mark it for installation, then proceed. Via the terminal, it is simply:
sudo apt-get install thunderbird
What the command means is pretty straight forward. You are using the APT package management system, and the apt-get command is the part of it that will automatically look in Ubuntu’s repositories for the required software, and download it for you. That’s right – you don’t even have to specify a web address!
The “install” option is what it seems: it’s telling apt-get to install it for you once it is downloaded. And after that, just put the names of the programs you want to install. You can install as many as you want at once; you just need to know the correct package name (more often than not just a simplified, lower-case version of the displayed program name), and separate each app name with a space.
The last thing we need to mention is the first bit of the command: “sudo“. You will see this around in forums and web pages, and you’ll soon get used to using it. Part of what makes Linux much more secure than Windows is the fact that the user has limited control of the system, and that for some tasks, one either has to log in as root, or do what most of us do (and is the recommended option): become a superuser. So when you try to run a command you have found somewhere, only to be informed you don’t have the privileges to do so, all that is needed is to run the same command again preceded by sudo and enter your password when prompted.
When installing packages, Ubuntu sees no difference between programs and packages that are part of the system itself, so by becoming superuser you are in fact approving the installation.
So that’s it. Whenever you hear of some programs you’d like to install, or see some mentioned in forums (often with the correct package name), try it via the command-line and see how much faster it is. I mean, if you wanted to install all of the suggested internet programs for newbies at once, in Synaptic you’d be there for a little while. In the terminal, it’s as easy as:
sudo apt-get install thunderbird epiphany-browser opera amsn d4x kget filezilla foff azureus ktorrent
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