I stumbled across a pretty useful website the other day at www.getdeb.net. It has a bunch of precompiled .deb files, making it easy to check out of some the newest and most exciting open source software.
What's a .deb?
A .deb file is the Ubuntu equivalent of an Windows .exe. It' s Ubuntu's way of standardizing package installation and securing system stability. The .deb files have all the necessary information and dependencies to make installation and removal painless. Compiling software is still a viable method of program installation in Ubuntu it just doesn't have dependency and uninstallation information built in. Deb's maintain system stability. With a standardized method of installation and removal, you don't have to worry about the old Linux problem of dependency hell. When installing a .deb Ubuntu's package manager apt will be able to monitor all dependencies. Nothing can be installed without satisfying those dependencies and dependencies will not be removed when installing programs if they are needed by other programs.
Installing a .deb
Installing a .deb works very much like installing an .exe on windows. A window will pop up telling you what you are installing and a couple of mouse clicks starts the automated installation.
What's on getdeb.net?
On getdeb.net you can get the latest bleeding edge releases of programs that wouldn't be available in the Ubuntu repositories until another distro release. As well as, .debs for smaller open source projects. Not every project is Ubuntu specific or has the time to compile a deb for Ubuntu users. If program A is only released as a tarball, most users would be able to install it with a little help. But satisfying the dependencies, removal and system stability all could be theoretically compromised. Thanks to getdeb.net these smaller projects get the ease of installation and system stability of having a .deb.
Advantages to using getdeb.net
The current Ubuntu official packages update policy is limited to critical bug fixes, meaning after each release there will be no regular bug fixes or improvement updates. This is a good practice for stability purposes specially if you are planning to do an enterprise level support but for you the user it means that until the next release you will not be able to get the latest and greatest software versions for your system.
Experienced users and developers will be able to compile and install from the source but unskilled users which would like to try the latest versions will be complaining about how hard it is to compile software packages, especially those which depend on several development libraries.
This policy is also a limitation for the emerging applications which will not be available on the official repositories and consequently not getting the proper recognition, something that they can get by being easily available to the end users.
Disadvantages to using getdeb.net
Installing .debs from 3rd parties (not officially from Ubuntu) always runs a risk. This Ubuntu forums post illustrates it. When installing a .deb, you give the installer root privileges, it has full access to install and remove anything on your computer. It needs root access to install and satisfy dependences, but if used maliciously it could install key loggers, spyware, viruses or simply delete your system files. This is why it is important to know and trust any site you download a .deb file from. getdeb.net is a trustworthy site and used by hundreds of Ubuntu users, but a warning needed to be issued.
I hope you enjoy getdeb!