Ubuntu Adds Support to Install DEBs in App Center

Ubuntu’s App Center has had a rather glaring omission from recent releases of Ubuntu. It did not come with the ability to install local DEB packages downloaded from the web. Based on my research, it seems like this feature was always planned to be included but unfortunately there wasnt enough time to make it in prior to full Ubuntu releases. That is obviously a bummer for Ubuntu users but with the App Center being a Snap, that should’ve been just a temporary issue.

The first version of the App Center that did not support installing local third-party DEBs was Ubuntu 23.10 (Mantic Minotaur). Prior to this Ubuntu was using a different software center which did have this functionality and had it for years.

Just to be clear, we aren’t talking about support of all DEB files. The App Center has always supported installing DEBs from official Ubuntu repositories. This is about installed third party DEBs which is also sometimes called “side loading”. It is also important to note that users could still install these packages if they really wanted to because it was easily accessible by running a sudo apt install command. It was also possible for people to install the app GDebi which is essentially made exactly for this purpose but both of these things required the user to know this. Beginners or average users would likely not be aware of these options.

Ubuntu will also be displaying warnings and confirmation boxes in App Center when someone tries to do this in order to educate users about the risks of installing DEB packages from untrusted sources. I think there are 2 things to address here. The security concerns of DEB packages and control in the hands of the users.

First, DEBs do present some security concerns. This is undeniable and its good that Ubuntu is going to display warnings to users about the possibility. DEBs grant unrestricted root access to the system and lack any kind of sandboxing. DEB packages in official repositories are not guaranteed to be without issues but the odds of a malicious actor getting something in one of the official repos is pretty small. BUT it is certainly possible with a third party DEB depending on where you download it from, of course.

The fact remains though, for about 8 months, that beginners or average Ubuntu users unaware of the more technical solutions have not been able to install DEB packages they downloaded. I understand the frustrations people have with this because I think it is fair that it could have waited until after the distro release since it is a Snap and it can be updated at any time but it took a full 6 month cycle and it still didnt happen until 2 months after 24.04.

I personally found myself wanting to do this recently because I tried using the Snap version of the Steam store and while for some time the experience was fine I started running into total crash failures where not only would the game crash but all of Steam would crash. Since I am a technical Linux user was easily able to bypass the limitation by using APT in the terminal to install the DEB of Steam I got by downloading it from Valve’s website.

I’m glad to see that Canonical have implemented this functionality but I do think it is fair to say it should not have taken this long to get it. I understand development takes a lot of time and I am not saying that it was simple process to make it work in App Center but it took until 2 months after another release of the distro. I’m just saying that Ubuntu is usually better at user experience elements than this so it’s a bit surprising.

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