How to install software in Ubuntu

One of the joys of Ubuntu is that there’s a mass of free, open-source software out there to try and that it’s all readily available from your desktop. There’s no need to trawl multiple sites looking for a utility to do x, y or z, and if there’s an app you need for a particular task, it’s nearly always only a few clicks away.

How to install software in Ubuntu

There are several ways to install new programs. In isolated cases, you may find yourself downloading a file from a developer’s homepage, in which case they’ll usually provide specific installation instructions.

These days, there’s little more involved than downloading the file in a ZIP or TAR format, double-clicking it and letting Ubuntu’s built-in tools handle the rest.

You may, however, need to mark a file as “executable” in order to circumvent Ubuntu’s malware protection. Just right-click on the file, select Properties, click on the Permissions tab and then tick the box next to “Allow Executing File as Program”.

It’s also possible to download and install apps using Ubuntu’s command-line terminal. It’s the quickest way, so you’ll often find it used in many Ubuntu walkthroughs on the web. Don’t let this put you off; it’s much easier to use the Synaptic Package Manager and the newer Ubuntu Software Centre instead.


Like many Linux distributions, Ubuntu maintains archives containing apps and software libraries that are ready to install. Most of the programs you’ll need to use in Ubuntu can be found therein, and they ensure the software is malware free.

Ubuntu’s repositories are split in four. The Main repository contains all the programs and libraries that are officially supported by Canonical. The Restricted repository contains applications that are supported, but not available under a free, open-source licence.

The Universe repository contains programs that are maintained by the community, but not officially supported. Finally, the Multiverse repository contains software and libraries that are neither free, nor supported. In short, you’re on your own.

This is important when installing software, as certain repositories are hidden by default. You can un-hide them, if you need to, by editing your Software Sources. To do so, first right-click on the Applications Places System area of the top bar and select Edit Menus.

Scroll down to Administration and click the checkbox next to Software Sources. Now go to System | Administration | Software sources, click on the Ubuntu Software Tab and check the Restricted and Multiverse items.

The Synaptic Package Manager

The Synaptic Package Manager is the older of the two GUIs for installing software, but it’s useful when setting up a new Ubuntu system and you want to install lots of your favourite apps.

You’ll find it at System | Administration | Synaptic Package Manager. The interface appears overwhelming, but it’s actually pretty logical.

On the left you’ll see a list of software categories, and on the right you’ll find a list of the apps and libraries within that category. If you know the name or a keyword for an app, you can also type this into the search bar.

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