Software installation in Linux is difficult

Linux is for geeks only. Software installation in Linux is difficult. It is not for the faint-hearted. Let’s take, for example, installing a simple game of Hearts.

In Linux, you’ll have to download source code and have to compile it from source, and then you’ll run into dependency hell and have to track down all the individual dependencies yourself.

Here are some screenshots to show you just how difficult it is…

See? That was quite difficult, and I would not recommend that for the average user. People just want to click and go. They don’t want to have to run a lot of obscure commands just to play a game of Hearts.

It’s much easier in Windows. In Windows, all you have to do is search for the software you want, download it, click next-next-next-finish, and you’re done.

Let’s take a look at how much easier it is to install software in Windows…

See how easy that was? These Linux geeks have to stop pretending that Linux is ready for the average user. Windows is ready to go out of the box, and it’s just more user-friendly.


  1. Ted, your method is obviously the most efficient one to get those sw run on Ubuntu too by now, but do not forget that:
    1- you need to have a, preferably virus-free, copy of windows. Hence I’m not saying it must be original.
    2- you do need to install both the vm sw and the windows os before you could install, not run, the sw you want to use.
    Merely based on the message this article wanted to spread, if I got it rigth, it would be easier and faster to install sw on windows then.

    Do not lose focus on my point, all I wanted to highlight was: the article is surely good, but bad-written. It’s undoubtely easy to install sw on Ubuntu (but even on other distros), but using a better example to get people reflect on this, like as I said installing openoffice, would have been better.

    When someone wants to deliver a message about Linux in general, it shouldn’t be centered on “Look how doing this is better and cooler than on your crappy $os” but “Look that achieveing this goal is just as simple if not simplier”

    Hope I made me clear. :)


    And ps: I appreciate the professionality of your comment, other people would have just gone for the “stfu, fanboy” reply.

  2. @grog,

    Yes, you came through nice & clear, point taken, and I appreciate your explanation. And thanks for the comment, too. I’m generally against flaming other posters, though it’s obvious I’m not above taking shots at poor engineering. Regardless of which side is taken, I think the valid points in most posters’ comments merit a measured response — if not for the writers, then for other readers who are looking for information and insights. (Of course, an argument should be a valid argument; an ‘ad hominem’ attack doesn’t qualify as a reason for or against anything.)

    I also think the current state of “computing” is so pathetic, it’s worth making the effort to shine some light in the direction of “things that work as they should”. I see little use in trying to persuade the fanboys with mere words. When things become a religious issue, pushing only meets resistance. Nor would I want to risk turning off people who might consider a change. I’d rather offer reasons, and do so respectfully so that they’ll be considered. Or, better yet, put to the test.

    It would be nice to see Windows fanboys re-focus their passion and loyalty, and do so for good reasons — reasons they arrive at internally. I think their loyalty is misplaced when there are alternatives that offer fewer headaches, greater productivity, and more enjoyment — without the need to lose the use of treasured applications, something I see as one of the key issues that can make or break an OS switch. In other words, I don’t see Ubuntu as being any sort of threat to their Windows investments, hence no reason to attack Linux.

    Sure, this thread is sarcasm, with the most likely audience being those who already have switched from being regular Windows users to Ubuntu users. We can have a good laugh at what we’ve escaped from having to deal with. But I doubt it was intended to convince those on the fence; it’s more like an inside joke. I agree with you that if that were the point, a better demonstration could easily be made. And should be done coupled with comparisons involving other important aspects of an OS, not just app installation.

    Still, it’s hard not to take shots at Windows, for at least two reasons: It’s got the majority of mankind enthralled with its fatally-flawed design and irresponsibly insecure execution, and there are other examples out there that prove to the world that it is NOT inherently impossible to “do it right” when it comes to making a modern computer operating system. The latter insults me as a professional in that industry, while the former insults me as a human being and a user.

    I support Ubuntu because Canonical and the developers out there are “doing it right” and are dedicated to continuous improvement. Ubuntu is oriented towards making computing a fun, productive experience, not a stressful, time-consuming battle to get something done. It deserves attention. And with that it can sell itself. IF it’s presented in certain ways…

    So, to me, that’s the bigger goal: finding an effective means of making people aware of what/why “things Ubuntu”, while enabling them to take a “long-term test drive”. And, to my mind, that *requires* being able to retain, maintain, and continue using one’s investment in Windows, side-by-side. It wouldn’t be enough for every Windows application to be perfectly ported to Linux; no one but the most adventuresome will just up & jump into a new OS, even if they can bring over all their document files & use the same apps. It’s just not..natural to do that. There needs to be a graduated transition.

    I see VMware (or equivalent virtualization apps) as a means to satisfy BOTH needs, and do it fairly elegantly and robustly. It’s a very workable way to run essential or valued applications that aren’t yet ported to Linux (NO compatibility issues). And many Windows users will understandably be reluctant to consider anything else if they would have to give up their favorite Win-only applications. Since dual-booting doesn’t work to get someone interested in test-driving (it’s too much of a hassle & interruption) and very few will get a second PC to run side-by-side, virtualization is KEY for Ubuntu to gain traction in the marketplace because it neatly allows running both OS’s simultaneously.

    So, given the value/interest in running Ubuntu, and the need for certain Windows applications, we should be playing up the fact that there’s a solution that lets us have both –at the same time– rather than having to choose one or the other. If you don’t have to choose, you don’t have to make a religious issue out of anything. Have the best of both, as you define it.

    To answer your points: Installation of Ubuntu and VMware is an hour or so investment each, slightly longer if you want a Linux platform with Windows in the Virtual Machine. Another option is to install Ubuntu in a VM hosted in one’s existing Windows — but there are distinct advantages to doing it the other way around, even if you plan to run Windows for nearly everything. Obviously, people will get nervous over the “will it work?” thing… But it doesn’t just *work*, it works cleanly and reliably. (I LIKE that!)

    Another issue is the “Will I have to re-install Windows? Ugh!” thing. There’s a tool in VMware that can convert an existing Windows installation into an equivalent VM in situ; with Ubuntu installed for dual-booting, you’re there in one afternoon — with your existing Windows untouched. Or if you put Ubuntu in a VM in Windows, you’re talking maybe half an hour instead. That’s all rather reasonable, I think.

    If you’re happy with your current Windows install, there’s no issue. If not, you have a Windows CD, and that’s malware-free. Most people who “test drive” and eventually convert to Ubuntu/Linux will start from a history of using Windows on an Intel-based PC. And if they’re anywhere near typical, their system has “problems” (malware, configuration, disorganized file system, etc.) So going the “next step” of rebuilding their PC with native Ubuntu provides the perfect excuse to go ahead and do the “yearly Windows rebuild” they probably need to do anyway, but have been putting off. So rebuild Windows from scratch, but do it this time in a virtual machine running in Ubuntu.

    Since all virtual machines are a directory tree of files, that could be the last time you’d ever have to re-install Windows — even if you do pick up a virus now & then. Simply delete the VM and copy over your backup, and you’ve rebuild Windows, customized it with your favorite apps, and gotten it set up the way you like it in all of 15 minutes, not 15 *hours*.

    Now THAT’s the way to install, isn’t it? :^)

  3. i do think ubuntu needs a marketplace/appstore instead of ad remove software. Or some advertising: “Yes, we also have an appstore”. Windows bashing is lame…

  4. @Ted

    I do agree, in fact by now, and I imagine for a long time on, the best solution to keep high productivity and decrease costs is virtualization, on any os, for the reasons you wrote and to which I do not think I could add anything else.

    And yes, maybe I read at the article not in the funny way :)

  5. @grog,

    Yup, we might soon go from hearing “What operating system do you use?” to “What OS’s are you using these days?”

    Wait… I can see it coming…

    The fanboy fights are going to turn into “Your virtualization app sucks!! Mine’s better!!” :^D

  6. hi, i need to know how to voice chat using yahoo. i have searched a lot and never found any info about installing yahoo..

  7. Now do “Change your screen resolution”:
    (this is from the last time I tried Linux
    1. Right-click on desktop, choose Properties.
    2. Go to settings tab.
    3. Move slider.
    4. Click OK
    5. You’re done!
    1. Look in the manual. Surprise, there isn’t one.
    2. Look through all the menus you can find. Nope, nothing there either.
    3. Ask online. Response: “RTFM, newbie!!!”
    4. Attempt to RTFM. Read 20 man pages that were written with Comp Sci majors in mind. Try changing something, find that it doesn’t hold after the reboot.
    5. Ask your brother, who advises you to read “The Joy of X”. Find that document online and attempt to make sense of it. Puzzle over instructions that include the line “Next, recompile your kernel.”
    6. Make another change to a file that is just rows of numbers.
    7. Now the screen doesn’t come up at all!
    8. Wipe the hard drive.
    9. Install Windows.
    10. Right-click on desktop, choose Properties.
    11. Go to settings tab.
    12. Move slider.
    13. Click OK
    14. You’re done!

  8. I use linux every day and I love the installer that debian based distros have. I didn’t even mind using Gentoo’s system.

    However, (and I may have missed this) but to install hearts in windows (if its not there) is about the same. Control panel, add remove programs, add windows component, games, hearts. Tadaaa!

    For many applications its not that easy, sure there’s a lot of stuff in the repositories. Doesn’t make it easier or harder.

    Windows has the edge in hardware support because that’s where the vendors put the driver development.

    Both Windows and Linxus based os’s have their place and people should use what makes them happiest on a day to day basis. For me right now its XP on my desktop, Windows 7 on my netbook and Unbuntu on my server.

  9. Ha, ha, very funny. Of course, if you actually were to download a legitimate application, half of the steps you described would have been removed. But then, it wouldn’t have been much of a story, now would it have been?

  10. @Jason I don’t know how long ago you used Linux, but on my machine the following is the menu sequence for changing the screen resolution.

    Go to menu and then > System > Preferences > Screen Resolution

    Change resolution and click OK > Thats it!

  11. @Nigel- that’s good to know. The next time I’m in the mood for adventure I’ll try another whack at it. Though as demonstrated, M$ made it easier to play Hearts, and it hasn’t quite sent a lot of Linux folks back to Windows.

  12. PS I would note that the issue was that on my hardware (a Dell 17″ monitor) the Mandrake installer determined that it could run in two modes, 640×480, or some ridiculous resolution that was not in that monitor’s wildest dreams. So it may have been that Mandrake didn’t let me use a slider bar because there were only two settings as far as it was concerned. What I wanted to do was reinstall it as a “default SVGA monitor” that would hopefully have 800×600 or 1024×768. I apologize if this caused any confusion.

  13. @Jason,

    It may also matter what video card you have. Nvidia seems to be much more Linux-friendly than ATI products. (Many have posted that the ATI drivers don’t perform as well and have more issues.) Other vendors’ boards may or may not be as well-supported as these two. Also, you monitor would need to support the EIDE standards to have the OS read & automatically configure to its supported resolutions.

    The good news is that the display model in Linux is very powerful and flexible. Your video configuration can be hand-edited to explicitly state what your card and/or monitor can display, even if they can’t be automatically detected (properly). I use Nvidia boards in all my systems; there’s a very nice GUI you can install from the Ubuntu repositories that will do all the configuration, set up for multiple monitors, etc. with just a few mouse clicks.

    I have no experience with Mandrake, but the consensus seems to be that Ubuntu Linux is more user-friendly than other distros, needing less hand-configuration and use of the command line, while and providing more GUI tools to do things.

    Download an Ubuntu LiveCD and give it a spin — you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how far Linux has advanced in the last few years…

  14. Funny, a good post, totally agree, however making an “easy program installation launcher”-type deal of course can be done in Windows. Steam for example makes it quite easy to install games in Windows, and if Steam were ported to Linux of course it’d be easy there too.

    However, while your point is good, you have missed the point many users have about trouble with Linux, which IS something that all Linux users, which includes myself, should be concerned about. It’s the problem with installing *software outside the repository*.

    Essentially, Windows doesn’t come with a “repository system” like Steam by default, while Linux does. But what happens when you try to find software outside of those walled gardens on the net? Since Windows unfortunately has a bigger presence, there is quite a bit of software for it, but the amount for Windows, and the amount that is easy to obtain and use since it’s open source, is fairly big too. However, the snag right now is that most of it isn’t offered in easy-to-install binary packages like Windows has. The binary installers are out there, there are several of them, but they don’t get the kind of use they should. Often what this means is that users are stuck with the software their Linux repositories provide, and are not free to easily try brand new versions of their favorite apps, or apps which aren’t their repository for whatever reason. I can’t tell you all the times I’ve encountered only having a source package as my only download option.

    This causes Linux users to feel left in the cold, because freedom should also include the freedom to *easily install and use programs*, and unfortunately right now with Linux vs. Windows on the internet, outside walled gardens (repositories), that’s the way things are. I hope this changes quickly, as I want to see Linux do better on the desktop, and do better with program sharing, installing, and using. That’s what most users care about, *using* their programs ASAP.

  15. I’ve always been suspicious of Windows software that shouts that it’s “100% free!” since, back in the days when I used Windows (Win ME, I think), I downloaded a small “free” utility that infected my PC with adware and spyware crap. Search engines and download sites are not necessarily your friends.

    Got Linux’ed after that and never looked back.

    It’s funny how Windows people fight to the end to defend their OS, in an argument – for example about software installation – that they are so obviously going to lose.

  16. Heh, Now show me the screenshot comparisons for installing a wireless driver on a Dell Latitude D600 under Ubuntu vs. WinXP.

  17. What about the steps necessary to get Firefox installed? Let’s not short-change the Windows eXPerience!

  18. Now show me the screenshot comparisons for installing a wireless driver on a Dell Latitude D600 under Ubuntu vs. WinXP.

    I don’t have a Dell Latitude D600. It appears to use a Broadcom wireless card. Broadcom is notoriously Linux-unfriendly.

    Still, I have a Broadcom wireless card in my HP Mini, and to get it working in Ubuntu 9.04 I had to do nothing. Ubuntu immediately knew to install the proprietary driver for Broadcom, and it worked out of the box. Try that in Windows. If there’s one thing I don’t miss from Windows, it’s installing driver after driver.

  19. If there’s one thing I don’t miss from Windows it’s SEARCHING and SEARCHING for driver after driver… All those products and websites and model numbers and versions and patches and … conflicts.

    Oh, and let’s not forget finding, upgrading, and installing those few other “minor things” THAT ARE MISSING from Windows…

    Such as: A web browser, a PDF viewer, CD/DVD burning software, a webcam app, a decent calculator, file compression/encryption software, bit-torrent app, SS/WP/PPT (Office) tools, file transfer software, image manipulation software, …

    You know — All those things that make a computer, like, usable. The I-don’t-want-to-think-about-it-I-just-want-to-use-it stuff. The things that Ubuntu also installs automatically as part of its half-hour build from scratch…

  20. Shouldn’t you have used IE rather than firefox? Loads of those screen shots have an open source piece of software to blame! *snigger*

  21. I agree that it’s funny, but it’s grossly inaccurate. Windows comes with Hearts installed by default on consumer installs, although whomever installed the OS may have explicitly skipped it. It’s more properly installed through Add/Remove Windows components (named/located diferently depending on the version).

    You’ve compared installing from a community repository to installing 3rd party software. Installing software that’s not in the Ubuntu repos is almost as complicated, but the level of understanding required is far higher. Obviously unequal scenarios do no one any good. Leave the FUD to Microsoft, sir, and be honest and complete in your comparisons. I’ll have none of it.

  22. I think it’s been well established that Hearts was a bad example. Sorry for not knowing it comes with Windows (it wasn’t on the computer I used to do the screenshots).

    Nevertheless, the principle still holds.

    The most common practice for installing software in Windows is to search the web for random .exe files to download.

    And the most common practice for installing software in Linux is to use centralized software repositories.

    Those are the typical scenarios, and in the typical scenario, it’s far simpler (and safer) to install software in Linux than in Windows.

    In the atypical scenario, obviously it’s more difficult to install software in Linux, but a lot of pro-Microsoft anti-Linux FUD makes it sound as if compiling from source is the typical scenario for installing software in Linux, and it is not.

  23. @ubuntucat: Depends. A D600 with a “Centrino” sticker on it comes with an Intel wireless card that works great out of the box due to the Intel-led open-source driver project. A D600 with only a “Pentium M” sticker on it has a Broadcom (branded as Dell TrueMobile) card that will make your life hell. :)

  24. I think this is a little unfair. You’re comparing the best case scenario in Linux with the worst case scenario in Windows. While I agree that for anything in the repositories, Linux and especially Ubuntu is easier than anything Windows has, installing from a .deb package is about the same. The windows example you give *pales* in comparison to the misery and grief of trying to compile from source or install via .rpm without proper dependencies.

  25. If anything about it is unfair, it’s that the “common” Windows scenario is ‘go to the store or go on-line, search for the best price for the software you need, PAY for it, wait a week (if you save a few $ buying online), then deal with installation issues and having to upgrade drivers, hardware, or your OS to run it…’ (And worse if you need to uninstall it completely.)

    For Linux, it’s ‘go to the repository, search for the best option of what you need, download/install it, and RUN it’ — a few minutes later.

    It’s MUCH less usual to have to search the internet for Linux software — unless you need something that’s esoteric. But if that’s the case, it’s also likely that you’re a technical person and “already know what you need to do”.

    I’ve used Ubuntu since 6.10 (and RedHat before that), and the only software I’ve ever used regularly that’s not in the repositories are VMware (has a GUI installer), Skype (it’s a ‘.deb’ package & installs with a click) and a VERY cool HP-15C calculator simulator which requires a manual install (the tricky part being a TT font install).

  26. hmmm…

    I was always wondering why every windows version comes with hearts…

    I think I know why now :P

  27. “try to install photoshop, autocad or some game like Crysis”

    I’ll do that after you try to install GarageBand on Windows or try to install OneNote on Mac OS X.

  28. Ever tried a Mac? Software installation is as simple as a drag-n-drop and so is the uninstall procedure.

    What happens to Ubuntu (Linux) users in countries with NO Internet Access or with snail slow Internet Connections!

    And then again when you format your system (every software has to be downloaded again).

    Dont want to be so web-centric.

  29. Ubuntu installs most of the apps that most users need ‘out of the box’. No pressing need for the web. Canonical will even mail you an install CD for free if you have no net connection. I doubt either Apple or MS will be that generous…

    What Ubuntu users do when they ‘format their system’ is to re-install anything they’ve added/updated using a CD or DVD that contains their additions. They can quickly & easily create such a backup disk using a nifty utility called ‘aptOnCD’. No need for the web to restore either.

    And yes, I’ve tried a Mac; had one on my desk at work. I replaced it with a Win-Tel laptop…and installed Ubuntu on it. :^)


    I’m sorry? Is this one of these examples of how easy it is to install software on Ubuntu? Just tried again recently to install Linux since it’s supposively so much more user friendly now. I’ll let you know when I eventually get through compiling all the software I need to get windows drivers to work so I can connect to the internet.

    (Don’t get me wrong, I hate Windows, and I love Linux, but there is weight to the claims that Linux isn’t user friendly.)

  31. Is this one of these examples of how easy it is to install software on Ubuntu?

    It’s not an example.

    All the assertions about Linux software being difficult to install involve obscure atypical examples. ndiswrapper is a last-resort workaround. I’ve never had to use it (and that’s on five different computers), and a lot of other people haven’t had to either.

    Even though Hearts was a terrible example because apparently it comes with Windows, the typical example for Windows is still the same procedure: search the web, hope the download isn’t dodgy, click a whole bunch of times, maybe reboot.

    I’m comparing typical to typical. You want to compare typical to obscure. If you’re having trouble with wireless, get a different wireless card (I’d recommend Intel) and sell your old one. Though, I’m using a Broadcom wireless card (notoriously Linux-unfriendly), and all I had to do was go to System > Administration > Hardware Drivers and click Activate to install the drivers needed. I’ve certainly had much more difficulty over the years finding Windows drivers than finding Linux ones. To each her own. If you like Windows and it works for you, you don’t have to use Linux. Just don’t pretend Linux is difficult for everyone or even most people. I used DOS and then Windows for decades before Linux, so I feel I’m in a good position to critique Windows. I’ve used Linux for only four and a half years. I’m no Linux expert.

  32. I think a better example would be perhaps opening an .iso. In Linux, this is a right-click menu thing (under “extract”). On my Debian box it’s as simple as double-clicking on it. Boom, there it is. On the command line, it’s equally easy –

    sudo mount -o loop example.iso /mnt/example

    What about copying a cd to an .iso and verifying it?

    dd if=/dev/cdrom of=myCD.iso && isovfy myCD.iso

    On Windows? Windows doesn’t even have the ability to mount any file in a looping fashion. So, you have to browse on the internet a good while. Now, you have a few choices, one of the most popular being Daemon Tools (Another being Alcohol 120). Daemon Tools limits you to how many isos you can have open at any one time, as does Alcohol. Not only that, but Alcohol comes with a adware toolbar, and they both have to seat themselves deep inside your system to actually function.

    Even worse, to copy certain CD’s on Windows, you must use Alcohol 120 and Daemon tools to rootkit your system. Yes, you just had to rootkit your system to copy a CD.

    sudo mount -o loop example.iso /mnt/example
    is looking a little better now, isn’t it?

  33. Only a Linux geek (neck-beard unix asshole?) would go to that much trouble to download a game that is installed on Windows by default.

    The first 18 steps, BTW, haven nothing whatsoever to do with installing programs on Windows. OK, Mozilla sucks, and the internet is broken sometime, but that’s not an installation problem.

  34. @Goober

    Yeah right, in Microsof Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari or whatever it would be easier?

    It’s still the same internet so your whole argument is invalid..

  35. Oh, two-click Ubuntu’s GUI is difficult for you?
    Try Gentoo.
    And also: there are a lot more steps in your windows example :D

  36. LOL ahahah
    It’s a funny truth, but it’s not totally truth, because for beginners it’s not that easy to understand terminal and that codes and some people give up Linux for that reason. Would be better if the installation of .tar programs was like next-next-next…

  37. Hehe, first i thought you were kinda stupid. Then realized that the post was not only funny, but also sadly true. Maby in 10-15 years, the windows users will be convinced..

  38. I think this is a little unfair. You’re comparing the best case scenario in Linux with the worst case scenario in Windows. While I agree that for anything in the repositories, Linux and especially Ubuntu is easier than anything Windows has, installing from a .deb package is about the same. The windows example you give *pales* in comparison to the misery and grief of trying to compile from source or install via .rpm without proper dependencies.

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