I remember a long, long time ago when installing applications on Linux required downloading and compiling source packages. If you were really lucky, a developer might have packaged the source code in a more easily installable form. Without these developers, installing packages could become a dependency nightmare.
But then, package managers like rpm and dpkg started to gain popularity, followed quickly by yum and apt. It was an absolute godsend for anyone looking to make Linux their operating system of choice. While addictions can still be a problem, they weren’t as bad as they once were. In fact, many of these package managers didn’t hesitate to grab all the dependencies required for installation.
And the Linux world rejoiced! Hooray!
But, with these package managers, there was an ongoing requirement of the command line. All of this, of course, is fine for old Linux users. However, there is a new generation of Linux users who don’t necessarily want to work with the command line. For this user base, the Linux “application store” was created.
It all started with the Synaptic packet manager. This GUI for apt was first released in 2001 and has been a breath of fresh air. Synaptic made it easy for the user to search for software and install it with a few quick clicks. The outbuildings would be picked up and everything worked. Even when something went wrong, Synaptic included ways to fix broken packages, all from a drop-down menu.
Since then, a number of similar tools have come onto the market, all of which improve the usability of Synaptic. While Synaptic is still around (and works quite well), new users are demanding more modern and even easier to use tools. And Linux delivered.
I want to highlight three of the most popular “app stores” available on various Linux distributions. In the end, you’ll find that installing apps on Linux, whatever your distro, doesn’t have to be a nightmare.
GNOME’s point of view on the graphical package manager, Software, hit the scene just in time for the Ubuntu Software Center to finally merge into the sunset (which was fortuitous, given Canonical’s move from Unity to GNOME). Any distribution that uses GNOME will include GNOME software. Unlike the old Ubuntu Software Center, GNOME software allows users to install and update applications from the same interface (Figure 1).
To find software to install, click the Search button (top left, mirror icon), type in the name of the software you want to install, and wait for the results. When you find a title you want to install, click the Install button (Figure 2) and, when prompted, enter your user password (sudo).
GNOME software also includes easy-to-navigate categories, editor’s choices, and GNOME add-ons. As a bonus, GNOME software also supports snap and flatpak software. Out of the box, GNOME software on Ubuntu (and its derivatives) supports snaps. If you are adventurous, you can add support for flatpak by opening a terminal window and running the command sudo apt install gnome-software-plugin-flatpak.
GNOME software makes it easy to install software on Linux, any user (regardless of experience level) can install and update applications without a learning curve.
Discover is KDE’s answer to GNOME software. Although the provision (figure 3) is slightly different, Discover should immediately feel familiar to you.
One of the main differences between Discover and Software is that Discover makes the difference between Plasma (the KDE desktop) and app add-ons. Suppose, for example, you want to find an “extension” for the Kate text editor; click on App Addons and search for “kate” to see all the addons available for the app.
The Plasma Addons feature allows users to easily search through available desktop widgets and install them easily.
The only downside to KDE Discover is that the apps are listed in reverse alphabetical order. Click on any of the given categories, from the main page, and you will be given a list of available apps to browse, from Z to A (Figure 4).
You will also notice that there is no apparent app rating system. With GNOME software, it is not only easy to rate a software title, it is easy to decide whether you want to pass an application or not (based on a given rating). With KDE Discover, there is no scoring system to be found.
A bonus that Discover adds is the ability to quickly set up repositories. In the main window, click on Settings, and you can enable / disable any of the included sources (Figure 5). Click the drop-down menu in the upper right corner and you can even add new sources.
If you’re hoping to be one of the growing roster of Arch Linux users soon, you’ll be happy to know that the Linux distro, often considered to be “elite”, also includes a graphical package manager. Pamac does a remarkable job of making it easy to install apps on Arch. While Pamac isn’t quite at the design level of GNOME software or KDE Discover, it still makes installing and updating apps easy. From the main Pamac window (Figure 6), you can either click the search button or click a category or group to find the software you want to install.
If you can’t find the software you are looking for, you may need to activate one of the many repositories. Click on the Repository button then search in the categories (Figure 7) to locate the repository to add.
Updates are handled smoothly with Pamac. Click the Updates button (in the left navigation) then, in the window that appears (Figure 8), click Apply. All of your Arch updates will be installed.
More where it came from
I only listed three graphics package managers. That’s not to say these three are the only options you can find. Other distributions have their own version of the Package Manager GUI. However, these three do a remarkable job of representing just how far installing software on Linux has come, from the early days when you could only install through source.
Learn more about Linux with the free version “Introduction to Linux” Linux Foundation course and edX.