Linux Literacy Session 2: Exploring Software


version 1.0

Regular Users and Administrative Users

Linux has a special user called “root” (or the “administrative user”, or the “superuser”). This account is used for adminstrative tasks:

  • Making system-wide configuration changes
  • Installing/removing most software programs
  • Running updates

As a general rule: use regular accounts for day-to-day tasks: e-mail, web surfing, creating documents…

In Ubuntu the root user does not have a password of its own, and does not log into the system directly. Instead, members of the “admin” group can run commands as the root user (usually by entering in their own passwords to authenticate).

Ubuntu Software Concepts

  • packages
  • dependencies
  • repository sources : official, PPAs, backports, third-party
  • repository types: main, universe, restricted, multiverse
  • package managers : Ubuntu Software Centre, Synaptic, apt-get,
  • updates and upgrades

Finding Software

Exploring Software

  • What does the program do?
  • How far can you get in working with the program?
    • How do you start and stop the program cleanly?
    • How do you get a toy example working with basic functionality?
    • How do you get a more realistic example working?
    • How do you work with more advanced features if you need them?
  • Does the program show up in the Ubuntu menu?
  • What file formats does the program use?
  • What built-in help is available for this program?
  • What online support channels are there for this program? (You may
    not know how to use them all yet…)

File Formats and Compatibility

Sharing files with those who do not use Linux/Free Software can be
tricky. Here are a few formats to watch out for:

  • Office Documents: the most compatible word processing format is Rich Text Format (RTF). Some programs (LibreOffice/OpenOffice) have some compatibility with Microsoft Office formats, but conversions are often imperfect.

  • Archives: Zipfiles are the most compatible

  • Documents and Presentations: PDF format is often the best option (and it is often easy to generate). Save in lower versions of the PDF standard (e.g. 1.4) for greater compatibility.

    Be aware that the PDF format has several security vulnerabilities, and has recently become less trusted as a standard.

  • Text files often lose linebreaks and carriage returns. Linux and Windows save text files using different standards! Tab characters can be a problem too.


  1. Activate the “universe” repository on your home Linux installation

  2. Install the “tangrams” (gtans) application on your home Linux installation.

  3. What packages does the “gtans” package depend on? (Just list the immediate dependencies.)

  4. Install and explore a program relevant to one of your personal interests. Address the questions above. Write your experiences out in your log.

  5. List three spreadsheet applications you could install on your Ubuntu system. (You don’t need to install them.)

  6. Find one Ubuntu alternative to a program you have used before. What features does it support as compared to the program you are familiar with? What features does it lack? What is similar/different about its approach?

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