How to install applications in Ubuntu

This blog is still in it’s infancy and up until now most of the articles will be of little use to seasoned Ubuntu users but hopefully of some use to people who have never seen Ubuntu before.

This article continues along the same road because before I can move on to the more interesting and informational topics I think it is only right to create a complete picture.

Thus far there has been an article stating what Ubuntu is, how to use the launcher and how to use the dash. Last week I added an article showing the keyboard shortcuts that you will find useful when navigating Ubuntu.

There are a few more articles that need to be written to set the scene including reviewing the applications installed within Ubuntu but before I did that I wanted to show how to install applications within Ubuntu. This article therefore shows new users to Ubuntu, how to install software within Ubuntu. The methods shown below all use the graphical tools as opposed to command line tools (that is for another day).

Those of you that have been computing for a while will have seen many different changes in the way software has been obtained and installed over the years.

When I first started using a computer it was back in the mid 1980s and the first computer I received was a Sinclair Spectrum +2. The software for a Sinclair Spectrum could be bought literally anywhere, from your local papershop to WHSmiths and even Boots the chemists. Sinclair Spectrum games came on cassette tapes and could cost anywhere from £8.99 for new and premium software to 99 pence in the bargain basement bin.

Over the next 10 years the continuing theme with software was that you purchased the software from the shop and then installed it on the computer. The media used changed from cassette to floppy and then to CD-ROM but the process was the same.

The way the software industry has changed and how software is delivered makes me wonder whether kids now even know that you can still walk into PC World and buy software on a disk.

The reason I ask that question is that software is now downloaded and quite often the software is downloaded from an “App Store”.

What does any of this have to do with Ubuntu? Well Ubuntu uses the equivalent of an “App Store” to provide software.

There are certain terms you will hear when reading forums, magazines or social media sites when it comes to installing applications within Ubuntu. The first term that you will come across is repository. A repository is the place where the software lives. The Apple App Store is a repository, the Google Play store is a repository.

There are various repositories available in Ubuntu by default and you can access them by clicking the settings icon (cog icon with a wrench, or click the icon in the top right corner and select “system settings”). Now click the software and updates icon.

The “software and updates” application lets you view and amend the repositories used to serve applications. There are five tabs on the application:

  • Ubuntu Software
  • Other Software
  • Updates
  • Authentication
  • Additional Drivers

Software Sources

The Ubuntu Software tab lists the key software repositories provided for Ubuntu. The repositories are split into four sections:

  • Main
  • Universe
  • Restricted
  • Multiverse




The “main” repository contains only free and open source software that is supported by Canonical. The “universe” repository contains free and open source software supported by the Ubuntu community. The “restricted”  repository contains proprietary drivers for devices and finally the “multiverse” repository contains non-free software and/or software that has legal and copyright constraints.

Also available on the “Ubuntu” tab is the ability to get the Ubuntu source code and the ability to install software from the CD-ROM. If you have a poor internet connection then it is good to have the ability to install the software from the CD-ROM rather than the online repositories. To be able to install software from any of the repositories place a check in the box next to the repository.

You may notice on the “Ubuntu” tab the “Download From” list. This enables you to choose which server is used to obtain the software you install. By default the download is set to “Main” but you can change this to choose a server near to where you live or there is an option to choose “best server” which pings all the servers to find out which one will return the quickest results.


Other Software

The “Other Software” tab is used to add “Other” repositories. The first two options provide access to Canonical partners but you can add other repositories by clicking add and then entering the “APT Line”. Now clearly you aren’t going to guess the text required to enter into the “APT Line”.

Generally the reason you will add a repository in the “Other Software” tab is because you have found the software online or someone has told you about it and the software doesn’t live in the main repository. The website for the piece of software will generally provide the “APT Line” that needs to be entered to add the required repository.

At this point I should warn about the use of “Other” repositories. If you stick to the yellow brick road of the Canonical and Community repositories then you can feel fairly safe that the software you are installing is good and comes without nasties. When it comes to “Other” repositories there are no guarantees. You are now entering a side street market and it is up to your own judgement to determine whether the software you are receiving is “Georgio Armani” or “Dave Armani”.


Ubuntu Updates

The “Updates” tab isn’t really in keeping with this article because this article is about installing software whereas updates should be in an article all by itself. The “Updates” tab deals with how updates to your Ubuntu operating system get notified and delivered.





There are four types of updates made available:

  • Important security updates
  • Recommended updates
  • Pre-released updates
  • Unsupported updates


It is up to you to determine which updates you want to install. The security updates should be a no brainer. You should always install security updates. I personally go for the recommended updates as well. The other options on the “Updates” tab include how often should your system check for updates and you can select from “daily”, “every two days”, “weekly”, “every fortnight”, “never”.

You can also choose what happens when security updates are found. You can choose to display them as notifications, download them automatically or to download and install them automatically. The same choice can be made for other updates that are not security related but the choices simply show how often you are notified. The updates don’t download or install automatically.

Finally on the “Updates” tab you can determine when you are notified of a new version of Ubuntu. If you are an LTS person then you can choose to be notified every few years. Other than that you can choose to be notified for every new release or never.

The “Authentication” tab provides you with a list of trusted software providers. When it comes to adding repositories it is good to know that the software providers have been given a key that states that they are a trusted resource. This section is described in more detail in the Ubuntu documentation which is included as a link at the end of the article. Finally the “Additional Drivers” tab shows just that.

Ok so now you know where your software is coming from. If you start to use the Ubuntu Software Centre and a piece of software you are expecting to see isn’t there then you know where to look to see if all the correct repositories are selected.

Lets move on to the Ubuntu Software Centre itself. To access the Ubuntu Software Centre click on the icon that looks like a briefcase with the letter “A” on it. Alternatively click the super key (Windows icon) on the keyboard and start typing “Software”.


Ubuntu Software Centre

The opening screen of the Ubuntu Software Centre gives an overview of applications. At the top is a rotating banner showing off different applications.On the left is a list of categories. There is a small section caled “What’s new” which as you might guess shows off new applications.



There is a “Recommended for you” section which you can turn on that lists applications that you may like. This gets us back onto the NSA, spying and the fact that some people don’t like their actions tracked and some people don’t like targetted applications. Personally if the “Recommended for you” section provides me a list of applications that I would genuinely like and use then I don’t care.

At the bottom of the screen is the “Top Rated” section which gives a list of the top rated apps. (Who would have guessed).

The most useful part of the whole screen is the search box in the top right corner. To find an application either type the name or the application of a keyword to describe the application. For example if you want an audio player type “audio player”.


Ubuntu Software Centre

The list returned via the search results includes free and non-free software (unless you have turned off certain repositories). You can change the order of the list by choosing a different option from the list on the right hand side. The options include “By Relevance,”, “Top Rated” and “By Newest First”.

When you click on an application you are given the option to see more information about the application or to install the application.



Ubuntu Software Centre

The “more info” option provides a detailed review of the application including its intended purpose, how much it costs, screenshots, optional add-ons, version, file size, licensing and updates.

Other information provided includes applications that other people installed similar to the one chosen and a list of reviews for the application.

The reviews can be sorted by language and by relevance (i.e. “newest first”, “most helpful first”). I am not sure how they determine most helpful.

If you don’t know what you want to install and just want to browse then it would be better to use the category selector on the front page of the Ubuntu Software Centre than to use the search tool.

The categories include:

  • Accessories
  • Books and Magazines
  • Developer Tools
  • Education
  • Fonts
  • Games
  • Graphics
  • Internet
  • Office
  • Science and Engineering
  • Sound and Video
  • System
  • Themes and Tweaks
  • Universal Access

If you click on a category then generally you are shown a list of items within that category. There are some categories (for example “Games”) that show you another screen which provides further sub categories and an option to view all the applications in the category. Underneath the categories is a list of top rated items for the category that you are in.

When you click to install a piece of software you will be asked for your password to enable the install to continue and you will be notified if any other software is required in order for your chosen software to run.

The Ubuntu Software Centre is the one stop shop for all applications in Ubuntu. By this I mean it isn’t just a place to search for and install software, but also a means to manage the software on your computer.

At the top of the main screen you can choose which repositories are searched when choosing categories or searching in the software centre. By default the Ubuntu Software Centre has “All Software” selected which means all repositories are selected. You can change this to choose from any of the repositories available.

If you want to remove software or find software that is installed on your computer click the “Installed” icon at the top of the Ubuntu Software Centre. (If you click the arrow next to it you can again narrow your search by repository). You are now shown a list of categories.

By clicking on each category you can see the applications that are installed in that category. When you click on an application you can see more information about the software by clicking the “More Info” link or you can remove the software by clicking the “Remove” link.

Incidentally you can also remove software by accessing the dash (super key), finding the application icon, right clicking the icon and selecting uninstall.

The final icon at the top of the Ubuntu Software Centre is the “History” icon. If you click the “History” icon you can see when applications were installed and when updates were applied.


Before I go I wanted to say that during this tutorial I installed PacMan. The mere mention of the 80s at the start of the article made me nostalgic. The reviews for PacMan were 2/5. Pretty accurate I would say.

Thanks for reading.

For the Ubuntu documentation on software sources visit

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1 comment for “How to install applications in Ubuntu

  1. Brigit
    July 26, 2013 at 12:48 am

    thank you! this gives me more insight on what to do but my main problem is this: most of the time I can’t get an app to even download much less install. I keep getting an error box. BTW….I’ve been to many blog sites and such but yours is the only one I’ve found so far that truly explains things in a form that anyone can understand! I will return here for more info on how to use Ubuntu( all I’ve ever used was Windows and I’m now trying to get away from Windows)

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