Welcome back to another installment of “Command Line.” The ongoing series where we explorer new and useful ways to leverage Linux apps on Chrome OS. Up to this point, we’ve covered the basics of getting Linux apps up and running on your Chromebook and we’ve even experimented with adding a Linux desktop environment on Chrome OS. The response to this new series has been overwhelming and I’m looking forward to testing new applications, finding workarounds for Crostini’s limitations and simply discovering new ways to use Linux on Chrome OS.
Today, we’re going to look at a very popular piece of software that many Linux users are very familiar with and probably use on the daily. Installing Linux applications from the terminal may seem intimidating at first but with a little practice, it can become second-nature and a lot of Linux users are perfectly content using this method. Others, however, prefer to have an actual app store. For you, there are options such as install Gnome Software Center or using packaged apps like Flatpaks that can be found in the Flathub shop online.
Me? I sort of fall in between these two scenarios. I don’t really care if I have an actual “store” to download my applications from but at the same time, I do like to have a graphical user interface for installation, updates and other tasks that are done from the terminal. That’s exactly where Synaptic Package Manager comes into play. I know my way around the terminal well enough but I am by no means a Linux expert. As a matter of fact, most of my endeavors as of late have required me to continually learn how to execute new commands, create scripts and find/install dependencies that are missing but required to make certain applications work. Synaptic is helps to bridge that gap a little bit for guys like me who are still learning their way around Linux.
In essence, the Synaptic Package Manager does nothing that can’t be done in the terminal. The difference is that Synaptic does so using a GUI. Instead of typing commands in the terminal, you click the packages you want and select the action you need. Synaptic does the rest. It is, simply put, a face for APT which is the Advanced Package Tool for Debian. It handles installs, uninstalls, updates and downgrades of packages among other things.
The number one reason I like having Synaptic installed is that often when installing an application, the terminal will spit out dependency errors that prevent the app from completing its installation process. Synaptic makes it very easy to find and install or update said dependencies without having to scour the internet looking for command line inputs. Equally useful is the fact that you can install applications directly from Synaptic and you will be prompted to install any needed dependencies required by the package. You can even add repositories in Synaptic which is much simpler than using a text editor in the terminal. This is especially useful if you’re still a little nervous using just the command line interface.
So, let’s take a look at how to install and use the Synaptic Package Manager on Chrome OS. I presume that you have prepared your Chromebook for Linux apps and everything is up-to-date. If not, check out this article and come back when you’re ready. Now, to install Synaptic, you need to open your terminal and paste the following command:
sudo apt install synaptic
If prompted, hit “Y” or enter and wait for the process to complete. Once the installation is finished, you can launch Synaptic with the following command. There will not be an app icon in your launcher but don’t worry, next week’s lesson will be how to create an executable shortcut. Now, launch Synaptic.
This will launch Synaptic and you will be able to see all of the packages installed in the Linux section of your Chromebook. Just click on “Status” and select “installed”. Under “Sections” you can see categories of all available packages and applications. To install an app, select the checkbox beside it in the list and then click “mark for installation.” Next, you will be prompted if any other packages are required for the application. Once you’ve marked them all for installation, click “Apply” at the top and wait for the process to complete.
With the search tool, Synaptic makes it easy to find missing dependencies for packages and install or upgrade them. There are literally thousands of packages available in the manager and it opens up a lot of doors for adding new applications to your Chromebook. I’m going to spend some time experimenting with different ones to see just how capable Synaptic is on Chrome OS and we’ll keep bringing you new tips and tutorials to get the most out of Crostini and Linux. Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to come.
Update: Since the publication of this article, Chrome OS 80 has brought Debian 10 (Buster) to the platform and unfortunately, Synaptic does not play well on Buster. Check back for a new tutorial on how to get Synaptic Package Manager working on Chrome OS 80.