I've spent a day trying to help a user new to Linux get up and running, to get them using Spotify, Songbird, Skype and Dropbox on their eee pc netbook, running ubuntu netbook remix.

I'm a competent mac user and I know my way around a commandline, but I shouldn't need to expect someone else to do this, to install common, non-free, or simply non-standard apps like those mentioned above, especially after how simple the process of installing new programs on OS X or Windows is.

What options are there for ubuntu, to make GUI based installing something like as easy it is on OS X or Windows?

Also assuming you use .deb files for installing apps directly from websites, how can you easily keep them up to date?

Songbird, Skype, and Dropbox can all be downloaded as .deb files, but once they've been downloaded, I can't see an easy to keep them being updated the way sparkle works on OS X.


get the .deb package,double click on it,and you're done once you input your password


As far as keeping things up-to-date, there are 3 possible options (maybe more, but these are all I can think of :)

  1. The app has its own updater. This is rare, but happens on occasion. For certain apps (e.g. Firefox), the manual update is restricted to the super user.
  2. You check the site regularly for updates. This is not, by any means, a preferable solution, but sometimes happens for apps which aren't provisioned in a repository. Songbird isn't in the repository, but I've only recently installed it, so I don't know what their upgrade path is.
  3. The site contains information for adding their repository location to your list in /etc/apt/sources.list. This allows you to get updates in the Update Manager, which can be set to automatically check for new versions. You can also try to get an upgrade from the command-line with apt-get.

Obviously, the second two options aren't the most user-friendly, particularly to those who are recently introduced to Linux, and the first is pretty hit-or-miss. The second option is ok (like Phobia said, .deb files are quite simple to install), but often the upgrade isn't directly supported by installing a different .deb version (e.g. VirtualBox OSE to VirtualBox Commercial).

All said and done, the best way to help them keep their system up-to-date is to teach them about repositories and the Update Manager (i.e. adding repos, importing their signatures, and updating their package list). If the application they're using provides repositories, they can add them once and then upgrade when they need to.

It's not a perfect solution (this sometimes breaks when you upgrade your Ubuntu distribution), but I think it's the best you can do for new Linux users.

  • songbird has its own updater too. – Decio Lira Aug 31 '09 at 1:19
  • Ah, good to know :) When I need to update it, I'll know where to look... – bedwyr Aug 31 '09 at 4:08

I argee with Phobia, just search {appname}.deb and maybe the version on google and install it packages.ubuntu.com is also a good place to search


As far as I know, if there are no repositories containing the packages you want, then there is generally no easy way to keep a package automatically up to date. This is the whole point of repositories -- you use Synaptic to install the package from the repository and then Update Manager will help you keep everything up to date.

Sometimes you have to go on a bit of a hunt to find repositories that have the packages you want, then you add the repository to your sources. Instruction for that can be found here.

As far as the software you mentioned, DropBox provides an unauthenticated repository here which works fine for me and googling for Skype repositories brings up some advice on how to install it such as this. Unfortunately Songbird doesn't provide any debs, and hence no repositories. I believe this is down to issues that Mozilla has with repackaging. But the community seems to have put together some solutions including debs here.

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