With so much software available for install, it is no surprise that Debian-based distros have many ways to manage software installation. At their root, however, they all use Debian's world-renowned Advanced Package Tool. One poster on Slashdot once said, "Welcome to Slashdot. If you can't think of anything original, just say how much APT rocks and you'll fit right in." You see, even though many other distros have tried to equal the power of APT, nothing else even comes close.
Why is APT so cool? Well, it was the first system to properly handle dependencies in software. Other distros, such as Red Hat, used RPM files that had dependencies. For example, an RPM for the Gimp would have a dependency on Gtk, the graphical toolkit on which the Gimp is based. As a result, if you tried to install your Gimp RPM without having the Gtk RPM, your install would fail. So you grab the Gtk RPM and try again. Aha: Gtk has a dependency on three other things that you need to download. And those three other things have dependencies on 20 other things. And so on, and so on, usually until you can't actually find a working RPM for one of the dependencies, and you give up.
APT, on the other hand, was designed to automatically find and download dependencies for your packages. So if you wanted to install the Gimp, it would download the Gimp's package as well as any other software it needed to work. No more hunting around by hand, no more worrying about finding the right version, and certainly no more need to compile things by hand. APT also handles installation resuming, which means that if you lose your Internet connection part-way through an upgrade (or your battery runs out, or you have to quit, or whatever), APT will just pick up where it left off next time you rerun it.
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