sometimes there's no other option but to compile software from source code. Typically this is the case if you want the very latest version of a software package that has yet to make it into Ubuntu's repositories, or if you want to support an esoteric piece of hardware with a kernel module.11
Usually you'll need to install the compilation toolchain piece by piece but a quick shortcut is to install build-essential using Synaptic. This
11. If you are building software against the kernel there should be no need to download the kernel source. The kernel headers are installed by default under Ubuntu (the package concerned is linux-headers-x, where x is the hardware architecture). If you do need to download the kernel source code for whatever reason, install the linux-source package.
installs make, gcc and a handful of other packages essential for the familiar configure, make, make install sequence.
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