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For the casual computer user, the Ubuntu repositories have a wide enough collection of needed software so that some people don’t really have to venture out of the Synaptic Package Manager. However, many applications, such as proprietary or new software, aren’t included in the Ubuntu software repository. Read on if you want a quick tip on how to easily and quickly install non-native software packages in Ubuntu.

Several services, such as Skype, either includes a few distro-specific builds for easy installation, or lets you add their own software repository into your package manager. Builds made for Ubuntu take on a .deb file extension, which is the Debian software package file format. This means that even if Ubuntu isn’t directly specified in the application’s download page, you’ll usually be able to easily install it if they offer any other Debian-based build.

However, many applications are only released in other software packages, such as .rpm or .tar.gz. Luckily enough, there’s Alien, a program that lets you convert between package file formats. So let’s start shall we? First and foremost, you need to install the alien package. Open up Terminal and run the following two commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install alien

Voila! You now have Alien installed. The next step is to download that non-Debian software package to your desktop. In this example, let’s use app.rpm as the hypothetical application you want to download and install. After, saving app.rpm to the desktop, run the following commands in Terminal.

cd ~/Desktop
(in this step, “~/Desktop” is the directory path to your desktop)
sudo alien app.rpm

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Alien will then do its thing, and after its done, you’ll end up with a app.deb file on your desktop. Now just doubleclick the file, run the package manager, and presto, you’ve got that application installed in Ubuntu.

Uninstallation is just as easy if you ever want to do that, like when a new release of the program you installed comes out. Just open up the Ubuntu’s Synaptic Package Manager, perform a search for the name of the application you installed, right click on the result, and choose uninstall.

What’s great about Alien is that it can be used to convert between several different package file formats. For more advanced users, you can check out http://www.debianadmin.com/manpages/alienmanpage.txt for a comprehensive list of available options with the alien command.

  1. Mackenzie
    April 19, 2008 at 10:39 am

    This works on *most* things, but there are occasionally times when the .deb won't be a good one. It's considered preferable that you find a native package or build from source if possible, though I know proprietary software won't give the option of building from source...hence this tool.

  2. David Johannes
    April 19, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Yes, Alien is available on all versions of Ubuntu. However, Alien doesn't always work 100% of the time, especially if the file you are converting contains scripts not suitable for your system.

    • Mackenzie Morgan
      April 19, 2008 at 10:20 pm

      Like if it wants to do things in /etc/sysconfig/ ? It's a RedHat-only config directory. They break standards.

      Alien works for going the other way as well. Check out the manpage.

  3. ADI
    April 18, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Does this work fine with all versions?
    I have just moved to gutsy I was just curious

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