Splatter – November 2007

How does one manage the installation and removal of thousands of software packages. In Linux, there are basically four ways to obtain software:

  • You can download packages from the repositories for your particular flavor of Linux
  • Some packages are available from various Web sites, such as Nvidia, which you can download and install
  • For those who want to hang out on the leading edge, you can always download the source for a package, and compile your own version
  • The latest way to get compiled packages is through OpenSuse’s build service, which compiles a package for a large number of distributions

As in the previous article, this discussion is limited to Suse Linux (OpenSuse), Red Hat Linux (Fedora), and Debian Linux (and its derivatives – Ubuntu, Knoppix, Freespire, and a lot more). Suse and Red Hat use rpm (Red Hat Package Manager) files, as a means for packaging software. Debian uses its own package manager. The software used to manage packages varies according to the distro. OpenSuse uses zypper (don’t install zen-updater in version 10.2, as it is slow), Fedora uses yum, and Debian uses synaptic ( or apt-get). If you choose to use the graphical environment (either gnome or kde), each distribution provides a graphical front-end to the package managers. For those who don’t like the default package manager, there are other package managers, such as smart.

The exiting new as of this writing is announcement on the OpenSuse-ham mailing list, that there is now an OpenSuse repository for hams that contains 74 packages. What is a repository. It is simply a server that contains for software packages for a particular distribution, and version of that distribution. You need to check the Web sites for each distribution for instructions on how to include repositories that are not a part of the standard install. The DVD, or CDs, that you used to install the software is only the beginning, and does not contain all of the repositories. The OpenSuse ham radio software is the largest repository of ham radio software that I have found. The URL is http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/hamradio/.

If a package does not exist in a repository, the you may find it at sourceforge.net, or freshmeat.org. You should also check out the applications listed at www.linux.org. Of course, google is always another way to find a particular package. Many of the sites offer packages that are already pre-compiled for a particular distro and version. If it doesn’t exist in a pre-compile package, you can always download the source files and compile them. Source files are usually distributed as compressed tar files (tarballs). If you haven’t heard of tar, it is a utility for archiving multiple files into a single file, but is not compressed. These files are then compressed with gzip or bzip2.

OpenSuse offers a truly unique build service that eliminates the pain of compiling software for those who are not programmers. Just go to www.opensuse.org, and click on the build-it icon. From the next page, you can search for software for different distributions and versions, and you can build it. The site is not limited to Suse and Fedora, but includes Debian, Mandriva, and other distros.

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