Installing Zotero standalone on Ubuntu 11.10

Zotero is an open source reference manager, produced by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.  To say ‘reference manager’ understates what it is capable of: you can use it to organize your reading, collaborate with others, and produce bibliographies in a matter of seconds.

Having started off as a Firefox plug-in, it has recently released a beta of a stand-alone application. More versatile than the browser-based version, it is however a little more tricky to install on Linux. (On OS X it installs via the usual click, drag and drop.) Hence this post. These instructions are based on Ubuntu 11.10, with the Unity desktop, but they should work for any variant. Certainly it works for my preferred flavour, Xubuntu.

Warning: this is beta software! Warning 2: these instructions come with no guarantee of success!

1: Download the Zotero standalone tarball. For a 32bit chip, you’ll want the x86 version, for a 64bit get the x86_64. If you don’t know what type of system you have, open a terminal and type:

uname -m

You’ll get something like i686 if you are running a 32 bit system, and x86_64 if you have a 64 bit system. Note that you may be able to run the 32 bit version of Zotero on a 64 bit system, and that even if you have a 64 bit chip, your version of linux might be 32 bit.

2: Unzip it. You’ll now have a folder called Zotero_linux, appended with -i686 for the 32-bit version, and -x86_64 for the 64bit. [Update 1, 16/7/12: I missed a line here: Open the folder and locate the executable file, named ‘zotero.’] Right click on it, choose ‘properties’ from the menu, and then the permissions tab, and tick the ‘Program’ box to allow it to run as a program.

3: As it stands, Zotero will work. But having the package in your home directory is a bit messy, and means it isn’t available for all users of the computer. So to be both neat and useful, open a terminal and type

sudo mv ~/Downloads/Zotero_linux-i686/ /opt

This will move Zotero to your /opt directory. Note that because this is Ubuntu, the command has to be run with sudo. For many other linux distros, you’ll have to log in as root.

4: So far so good, and so easy. The next step is to get the system to recognize that it has been installed. To do this you have to make a .desktop file in usr/share/applications. Copy and paste the following text into a file called zotero.desktop:

#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open
[Desktop Entry]
GenericName=Bibliography Manager
Exec= /opt/Zotero_linux-i686/zotero %f

Then send it to usr/share/applications, where most of the .desktop files reside:

sudo mv zotero.desktop /usr/share/applications

5: And finally, find and run it. Go to the ‘dash’ in the dock – or Application Finder, under Accessories in the Xubuntu menu – search for zotero, and it should show up under applications. Click and all being well, Zotero will start up. If you want to keep it in the dock, right-click the icon and tick the option to keep it there.

Uninstalling: To remove Zotero, open a terminal and type: sudo rm -r /opt/Zotero_linux-[version] and sudo rm /usr/share/applications/zotero.desktop. The users own files are in the hidden folder ~/.zotero.

[Update 1, 16/7/12: Missing line regarding permissions in step 2 inserted.]

[Update 2, 16/7/12: These instructions work for the latest Xubuntu release, 12.04; so presumably they will also work for Ubuntu 12.04.]

[Update 3, 16/7/12: Zotero is currently at version no. 3.0.8. Automatic updating from within the linux port doesn’t work; to upgrade just install the new version of the old, following steps 1 – 3 above.]

[Update 4, 10/7/14: Zotero is no longer beta, is at version for Linux, and automatic upgrading now works. Download link above changed. Further, there is now an Ubuntu PPA for Zotero on Launchpad.]

Further support for Zotero can be found on their documentation pages and forums. This post is copyright under the CC BY license. Use to your heart’s content, but please acknowledge me!

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51 Responses to Installing Zotero standalone on Ubuntu 11.10

  1. johnl says:

    Try launching Zotero from the command line & seeing if you get an error message:
    But note that there is a PPA for Zotero on Ubuntu; link at end of post. Far easier to use that.

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