Introduction to Ubuntu Software Center

Monday Apr 15th 2013 by Matt Hartley
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Find out where the Ubuntu Software Center came from, how it works and what alternatives are available.

Over the years, the methods of installing new software onto Linux systems has evolved a great deal. These days, modern distributions use tools like the Ubuntu Software Center to make software installation as simple as point-and-click.

In this article, I'll explore the Ubuntu Software Center, it's earliest beginnings, how the back-end works and where it still needs some fine-tuning for the future.

It Started with Linspire's CNR

I realize that there are a number of folks who cringe when I mention this, but it's a fact nonetheless: Linspire had a software center long before Ubuntu was even in existence. Before Linspire was acquired by Xandros, which decided to create a software store for multiple distributions, Linspire's original CNR software tool (Click-n-Run Warehouse) was years ahead of its time.

To an experienced Linux user, CNR was nothing more than a source of software discovery based on a front-end to APT. However, to the newer user, CNR represented the smoothest and easiest method of installing software I've ever experienced. Because Linspire ran as root, users could install software with a single mouse click. This differed greatly from the other methods available.

Then in 2007, Linspire lost the critical players who worked on CNR to.... you guessed it, Canonical. It was, in fact, Canonical who snatched up the critical staff members in order to work on what today is known as the Ubuntu Software Center.

Ubuntu Software Management Made Simple

One of the biggest advantages to using the Ubuntu Software Center has to be its ability to make discovering new software titles simple. It also improves the process of installing, removing or even simply checking out the installation history of various applications. In addition, it offers the ability to sync your installed applications across different computers. (I'll explain how to take advantage of this feature further along in this article.)

It's worth noting that the software center isn't perfect for handling every single type of software package available on Ubuntu. Oftentimes, library-specific files are easier to locate using Synaptic instead. But in the end, which application management tool you choose to use with Ubuntu will come down to personal preference.

Installing and Removing Ubuntu Software

The main capability provided by the Ubuntu Software Center is its ability to install and remove software. To install new Ubuntu software, you simply need to follow these instructions:

  • With Ubuntu Software Center open, search or browse to a software title in which you're interested.
  • Depending on how you arrived at the software title you want, either click "more info." then click on "install," or simply click on "install."
  • If the software you've chosen to install is a paid application, click on "buy" instead of "install." With the buy button clicked, you'll be asked to login to an "Ubuntu Single Sign On" page. Once you're logged in and have completed your purchase, the software will then be installed.

To remove your software, simply follow these directions:

  • Click on "Installed" at the top of the Ubuntu Software Center window or simply search for the application to be removed.
  • Click on "remove," and the software you've selected to be uninstalled will then be removed from your system. Paid software also works like this, although it's worth noting that your software's paid status will be reflected next time you wish to install the application. Just make sure you're using the same Ubuntu account when reinstalling said application.

Duplicate Software Installation Across Multiple PCs

Installing the same applications across multiple PCs is very simple using Ubuntu. Simply follow the steps outlined below:

  • With the Ubuntu Software Center open, browse to the top of the window and choose File, "sync between computers." If you're not already logged into your Ubuntu account, you'll be prompted to do so first.
  • You will be presented with a list of computers, choose the machine which has the software you wish to mirror on the new PC. Then highlight each application you wish to install and choose "install" (located on the right side of the page). This will install one application at a time. If you wish to install multiple applications at once, simply highlight and click install for each application.

Troubleshoot Ubuntu Errors Using Software Center

One of the greatest advantages to using the Ubuntu Software Center is being able to narrow down your recent system updates by date in a GUI. For example, if I were experiencing kernel-related bugs and I didn't recall exactly when I updated my kernel last, the Software Center could help.

To see exactly which updates you installed recently, simply follow this guide:

  • With the Ubuntu Software Center open, click on "history" located at the top of the window.
  • Browse to the latest date indicated and continue working backwards until you notice something which stands out. In my example above, we'd be looking for kernel updates.
  • Once the update you're looking for has been located, you can make a note of it and decided whether or not you wish to use Synaptic or APT to downgrade the problem package update. Sadly, the software center isn't very useful for making package downgrades.

Ubuntu Software Center Alternatives

Finding alternatives that are as flexible as the Ubuntu Software Center and that work smoothly with Ubuntu is actually quite doable. The key is to remember that there are a multitude of ways to install software on today's modern Linux distributions.

Synaptic – Without question, this is my go-to alternative for package management on Ubuntu. Installable from the Ubuntu Software Center, you'll find that what Synaptic lacks in software discovery, it makes up for in control.

Linux Deepin's Software Center – This is a very attractive alternative to the Ubuntu Software Center. I'd even say it's more functional to use from a navigation point of view.

APT – Available anytime you like from your terminal window, APT allows you to search, install, uninstall or simply update the software packages you already have.

Final Thoughts

The Ubuntu Software Center has been a big hit with Ubuntu users across the globe, but to be honest, it's not really that exciting for those trying to sell their software. As this recent article points out, the sales numbers for applications available in the software center is pretty disappointing.

While it's difficult to point to a direct root cause, I think it's safe to say that the number of Ubuntu users out there isn't the issue for the lackluster sales numbers. After all, Valve's release of Steam and Openshot's funding success have shown both both the money and interested users are out there. I think the problem is that the Ubuntu Software Center is presenting unknown paid applications that aren't resonating with the users.

I recommend a serious outreach to established non-game software vendors. Yes, games are great, but the bulk of the paid non-gaming applications on Ubuntu are pretty unimpressive. Think I'm wrong? Okay then, how many Ubuntu applications have you purchased? Exactly, I haven't purchased any either. And considering the front-page featured applications offered in the Ubuntu Software Center include stuff like a basic DVD player, it seems to me that there is a painful lack of anything exciting being offered. That, or the Ubuntu developers need to rethink the titles they're featuring.

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