Getting to know Ubuntu Software Center

Ubuntu Software Center For all of Ubuntu’s ease of use (and, yes, I do find it easy to use), installing software can be a pain. There are so many ways to do the deed: manually installing software, using apt-get, compiling, using .deb packages. And, of course, my (least) favourite: Synaptic Package Manager).

It’s not that I hate Synaptic (how can you hate software?), but I just dislike using it. It’s kind of ugly and not as intuitive as I’d like it to be. In fact, Synaptic can be a bit of a pain to use at times.

But in recent releases of Ubuntu, it’s gotten a lot easier to install software thanks to Ubuntu Software Center. Think of it as Synaptic, but a lot more user friendly.

Let’s take a look at it.

Zooming in

If you’re using Ubuntu 9.04 or newer, then you have Ubuntu Software Center installed. To launch it, select Applications > Ubuntu Software Center.

Ubuntu Software Center main window

Unlike Synaptic, which is an alphabetical listing of all the software available in the Ubuntu repositories, Ubuntu Software Center groups similar applications in departments. The departments include:

  • Accessories (things like calculators, clocks, text editors, and utilities)
  • Internet (Web browsers, email clients, FTP clients, and the like)
  • Sound and Video (music and video players, and related utilities)
  • Office (productivity and finance applications)

Some of the groupings aren’t all that intuitive. For example, I’d expect to find an application like wxBanker in a department like Finance rather than Office. I’m hoping that Canonical explores more logical groupings in future releases of the software.

Using Ubuntu Software Center

There are two ways you can find the software that you’re looking for: 1) go to a department and scroll through the list, or 2) use the search feature in the top-right portion of the Ubuntu Software Center window. Let’s go through the departments.

Here’s the situation. I’m looking for a mind mapping program called FreeMind. I know that it’s available in the Office department. So I click Office and get a list of programs. I scroll through and find Freemind.

Ubuntu Software Center Office department

As with Synaptic, you get an alphabetical listing of the applications. But unlike Synaptic, you get the full name of the application, a short description, and its icon. Click the More Info button to get a detailed description of the software.

Getting more information about software

With some software, you also get list of any available add-ons below the description. With FreeMind, for example, the add-ons include documentation and export filters.

To install, click the Install button. You’ll be asked for the password that you use to log into Ubuntu. From there, Ubuntu Software Center installs the software and any dependencies. There’s even a progress bar.

Progress bar

Definitely not perfect

I have a few quibbles. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like the way in which some of the software is grouped. A few more departments would be nice.

And, as with Synaptic, you’re limited to what’s in the Ubuntu software repositories. Sure, the software is interesting (for the most part), but some things are missing. On top of that, you don’t always have access to the newest versions. If you’ve added Personal Package Archives (PPAs), then Ubuntu Software Center will recognize those. Don’t know what a PPA is? You can learn more here.

Finally, according to Wikipedia Ubuntu Software Center currently only has 55% of the features of Synaptic. I haven’t noticed that very much, though.

Overall, I prefer to use Ubuntu Software Center. It’s easier to use than Synaptic, and the lack of Synaptic’s features have (so far, at least) not held me back.

Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.

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