If you’ve ever installed a program using Google Play on a cell phone, or the iTunes store on a iPhone or iPad, the Xubuntu “software” application will seem familiar. In versions of Xubuntu older than 20.04 the “software” program was more commonly known as the “software centre.” The actual file-name of the software program is gnome-software. This post was written with the assumption that Xubuntu 20.04 is still being used. Xubuntu 22.04, codenamed Jammy, has an updated version of gnome-software that looks a bit more modern, but still works similarly and presents similar information.
If you opened a “Terminal” and typed in gnome-software, the software application would open in a new window.
The software program was originally created as a part of the GNOME desktop. The gnome-software program is available in many other Linux distributions/flavours that use the GNOME desktop environment. Even though Fedora Linux looks and works very different from Xubuntu Linux, Fedora also uses the software application as the main method for graphically installing software
Other methods for installing programs
There are other ways to install software in Xubuntu Linux. Kubuntu, is a distribution/flavour of Ubuntu that uses a different graphical program, plasma-discover (also known as just Discover) as it’s software installation program. Plasma-discover loads faster than the software program in Xubuntu. You might be tempted to install plasma-discover, but be aware that if you install plasma-discover, it will also install about 140 other programs it needs to run, taking up a fair amount of extra space.
Another graphical program that was used in older versions of Ubuntu is called Synaptic. Synaptic is a light-weight graphical program, but it’s also fairly complex, and tends to require more clicks to install a particular program.
My favourite way to find and install programs is from a terminal. You might have been given the impression that the terminal/command line is difficult. This can be true when you first start. But if you learn a few tricks you’ll find that finding and installing software using the terminal is actually much faster than clicking through all the menus of the software, plasma-discover, or synaptic applications. I’ll cover installing software using the terminal in another post.
Elements of gnome-software
The software program in Xubuntu has a number of visual elements.
Software, or gnome-software, has a number of visual elements that are helpful for finding software, seeing what software is installed on your system, and seeing and installing software updates.
In the top left of the software program is a small icon that looks like a magnifying glass. Clicking on the magnifying box opens a small search field in the software program. If the software program has just been opened in Xubuntu it’s also possible to just start typing the name of a program in order to search the software program (note: the software program must be in focus, which means it’s the last program opened without anything else being clicked).
Another way to find programs is to click on the slider on the left side and scroll down to the categories (near the bottom of the screen). The categories section includes a number of categories that divides software into:
- Audio & Video
- Graphics & Productivity
- Developer Tools
- Education & Science
If you click on a category, the software program will change to show 7 columns of programs. To see more information about a program, click on the square for the program. Once a category is clicked on, the search icon in the top left goes away and turns into an arrow pointing left. Clicking on the arrow pointing left goes back to the previous software screen.
To install a program using the software program, click on the square for the program, click the blue Install button that appears when the program opens up the information screen within the software application. A prompt will appear asking you to “Authenticate.” Here you would enter the password for the user on your computer with “sudo” (super user do/administrator) access. Once the password is entered correctly the program will display a progress bar as it starts to download and install.
When a program is installed, the Install button disappears from the software program for that program, and in its place are Launch (run) and Remove buttons.
Some programs in the software application include one or more screenshots. Some programs don’t include screenshots.
Scrolling down information about a program reveals more details about a particular program. Under the description of a program there’s normally a button leading to a website for the program. Below the website button is a details section with one or more of the following details:
- Version – This is the version number given to the program by the Ubuntu team. This version number doesn’t always match up with the program’s actual version number. For example: the Nibbles game is listed in the software centre as being version 1:3.36-01. If you open Nibbles, click the gear icon and click about Nibbles it appears as 3.36.0.
- License – The type of license the program falls under. In the case of Xubuntu 20.04 this is usually either Free or Proprietary.
- Developer – Who the developer of the program is. Often this is the name of a single developer, but may also include a company name, or simply Snapcrafters in the case of some programs that come from snapcraft.io.
- Source – This is the source of the program, where the program is coming from. Often the source will be one of:
- Download size – This is the size of the individual program. Programs sometimes depend on other programs, which may add to the total size of the download.
Newer versions of gnome-software (Xubuntu 22.04, codename “jammy”, looks quite different compared to the version in Xubuntu 20.04 (codename “focal fossa”). The version of gnome-software in jammy looks more polished, and tries to present more information across the screen rather than making people scroll down.
Looking at the top of the main screen of gnome software, there are 3 buttons: Explore, Installed and Updates. We’ve covered Explore, the tab of gnome software that lets you browse and search for software. Clicking on the Installed tab shows a list of software installed on the system. The installed tab is handy if you want to uninstall software, there’s a button to uninstall the program on the installed tab. To get information about the installed program, simply click on the program and gnome software will display the program information.
The last tab shows updates that are available for the system. You don’t have to use gnome software to install updates, typing updates in the whisker menu (CTRL + ESC), will display a couple of updates related programs. Software Updater is the graphical program Xubuntu uses to display when there are updates. The updates tab in gnome software is just another way updates can be done.
Software, the Software Centre, aka GNOME software, are all names for the same program that’s used to graphically display information about and install new software on Xubuntu. It works a bit like an app store does on a cell phone in that you can search, browse, install, and uninstall software through it.
Software can be a bit slow, particularly when it’s first downloading the list of software available from the Internet. Graphical alternatives exist, like Plasma Discover, but those alternatives are either made for other desktop environments, and come with their own set of issues (more dependencies), or are old and difficult to use like Synaptic.
Installing software from the terminal is another option, but it takes some time to learn some tricks to making it a reasonable option. Once you learn a few shortcuts, installing from the command line is a lot faster.
Software is a good program if you’re used to installing apps on a phone. The version of Software installed on the latest Long Term Service Xubuntu, Xubuntu 22.04, looks cleaner and more polished, but more applications on Xubuntu 22.04 have been converted to the snap format. For this reason, our project has been slower to adopt Xubuntu 22.04. The software program on Xubuntu 20.04 might look a bit older, but the same information is there, and because Xubuntu 20.04 is supported with updates until 2025 it’s a logical choice to continue with for now.