One of the biggest strengths of Debian (and derivatives like Ubuntu) is support for the
.deb package. After all, it provides a one-click method of easily installing programs. Best of all, these programs are automatically updated via the official Debian repositories. Unfortunately, the official repositories aren’t always the best. Some programs aren’t always up to date (the latest version of Thunderbird is 2.0. However, the latest version in the repositories is 1.5). Worse, some packages aren’t in the repositories at all (Glest is a good example). True, you could build the program from source, but there are a number of reasons why that is undesirable (finding the dependencies, having to download the program again to uninstall it, not automatically adding itself to the menu, etc.). How do you find good Debian software?
I first stumbled across GetDeb when looking for a Kompozer
.deb. A kind Ubuntu Forums member pointed me towards the site, calling it the go-to place when the official repositories don’t have the program. Boy was he right. Not only have I used it for Kompozer, but I have used it for Glest, Pidgin, ActionCube, and many more programs. All of them are in tidy .deb packages for easy (un)installation.
Figure 1: GetDeb
There’s another option available. It’s called Automatix. It offers pre-compiled binaries of many popular programs and drivers, including Swiftfox, xdvdshrink, Nvidia drivers, and many more. However, there are two problems with it. First, it doesn’t distinguish between free (as in beer) and free (as in speech). Even worse, many users have reported problems with Automatix, occasionally creating problems only remedied by a live CD rescue. I personally have used it without trouble, but many people recommend NOT using it. If you’re still feeling adventurous, follow the instructions on the Automatix site on how to install it.
Figure 2: Automatix
Many people have created third-party
.debs and just haven’t submitted them to GetDeb or the official repositories. So it makes sense to search for the packages online. But why Google (besides the fact that it is the king of search engines)? The main reason is that they have a special search site called Google Linux which only searches GNU/Linux-related sites. Go there, then do a search for
[INSERTPROGRAMNAMEHERE] debian package OR .deb OR binary, replacing
[INSERTPROGRAMNAMEHERE] with the name of the program, e.g.
Figure 3: Searching for .debs on Google Linux
Converting RPMs to DEBs
One of the biggest competitors to the
.deb format is the
.rpm package (used by Red Hat, Fedora, Mandriva, SuSE, ArkLinux, and many more). Luckily, there is a tool that will convert many (but not all) RPMs to DEBs. It is called Alien. Just install the
alien package with
aptitude, or a package management tool like Synaptic. Then, open a terminal window,
cd to the source package you wish to install and type
alien [INSERTFILEHERE] --scripts -i, replacing
[INSERTFILEHERE] with your RPM (e.g.
amarok.rpm). The package will be converted and installed. If you use KDE, use Chad M’s RPM Installer for Konqueror or Dolphin, which lets users just right-click on an RPM and install it without having to remember Alien’s syntax.
Figure 4: An example Alien conversion
Last resort: making your own
Sometimes, none of the above will work. Luckily, if the program is open source and uses
make to compile and install, it might not be as bad as you think. All you need is two utilities called AutoApt and CheckInstall. What you do is download and install the
checkinstall packages using
aptitude, or a package management tool like Synaptic. Then, open a terminal and
cd to the location of the program you want to build from source. Type
auto-apt run ./configure. This will (hopefully) download all the requirements for the program. To finish, type
make and then
sudo checkinstall to create and install a
.deb. Obviously, Checkinstall won’t work with every single program, and AutoApt won’t find every single dependency. Still, they’re viable alternatives to using
apt-cache search to search for every dependency, then compiling the program itself.
Feeling experimental? Then you should try AutoDeb. It’s an experimental bash script that combines a modified version of AutoApt and CheckInstall. Installation is a breeze: just download the binary file here, and make it executable (
chmod +x ./autodeb). Then, you’re set! You don’t even need to unzip (or untar) the source archive, just type
Figure 5: Using AutoDeb