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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's In The Repositories! - Installing Programs In Linux

It's In The Repositories!
Remember how to install something in Windows? Sure, you just find that convenient executable file and execute it. So, for a program like MS Office, you would either download the entire program or insert the disc in the drive, find the "install.exe" or "setup.exe" file and double-click it. The installer launches and steps you through the setup and installation of your program. This is pretty straight forward and kudos to Microsoft for making it so easy.

It is not just MS Office that installs in this manner but all Windows programs are installed this way. In my opinion, the only downside to this method is that it does not provide a method of automatic updates for programs installed using the "setup.exe" method. Why do you care? Well, let's say you just installed Java on your Windows machine so you can watch the latest YouTube videos and the next day Adobe (who owns Java) release a critical security update to the software because some hacker discovered a flaw that allows him to take over your machine. Adobe released the patch on their website for all to install but who is going to know about it? Are you going back to Adobe's website on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to check for security updates? No! Does the Java program you installed automatically update itself or at least notify you that there is an update? No! Then how will you know? You will not. And that is where Linux and Linux Repositories are different.

Remember, Linux is Open Source which means most if not all of the software you want to use is free. Ubuntu maintains its own repositories which is nothing more than a place where all the free software is kept, in an orderly fashion, for you to download. Think of it as a shopping mall full of free software. To install it, you use a program manager like Ubuntu's Synaptic to search the repository, select the program, then install it. The greatest advantage this method has over "setup.exe" is that all the programs you get from the repositories check back with the repository every day to see if there is an update. If so, you get notified.

Back to our Java scenario. So, you have used Synaptic program manager to install Java from a repository. The next day, Adobe rolls out that critical security update which finds its way to the Java program stored in the repository. The masters at Ubuntu update the repository with the Java update. Now, when you boot your Ubuntu machine up (or other Linux variation) the program manager on your machine looks back at the repository and detects the update and, in turn, either downloads it automatically for you or notifies you that an update is available.

This is the great and powerful advantage that using the repositories has. Not only does your operating system receive it's updates from the repositories but EACH INDIVIDUAL PROGRAM you install on your machine does to. We all get Windows operating system updates automatically but those are only for the operating system. Not for your individual programs. Advantage - Linux!

Go Here to learn more about Ubuntu's repositories.

Long Live Linux.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why Not Just Use Windows?

Well, you can! There is nothing stopping you from using Windows except the upfront cost of doing so. You might say to yourself, "Well, Windows was free. It came with my computer." It did come with your new computer but it definitely was not free. You paid for it. The cost was wrapped up in the total cost of the machine which makes it transparent to most of us until something bad happens.

Take for instance - a hard drive crash! If it has not happened to you yet, do not worry because it will. So, I had a Compaq desktop with Windows XP installed. It came that way fresh from Radio Shack (yes, Radio Shack). I had that computer for about three years before the hard drive crashed. It crashed "Big Time" which meant that none of the data was recoverable and I had to buy a brand new drive. Did you know that hard drives do not come with Windows installed? Well, they don't.

I told the guy at the computer shop that I had a Windows XP disc which came with my machine so I thought there would be no need for me to pay for another Windows XP program since I had already paid for the one that shipped with my computer. If only it were that easy! I installed the disc and it prompted me for a license key and gave me a convenient telephone number to Microsoft to call. So I called it and things just got worse from there.

Turns out that the computer shipped with what is known as an "OEM Copy" of Windows XP. It is a "Special" version of XP that Compaq installed on my machine which supposedly is customized for that particular machine. Okay – what ever that means. Microsoft told me that only Compaq could send me a new OEM copy and provided me a phone number to call Compaq. I started to get that "About To Get Screwed" feeling.

I called Compaq who promptly told me that my computer is out of warranty so they can not provide me another OEM Windows XP disc for free but I could easily purchase one for $175.00. What!? I argued that I had already purchased a copy of Windows because it was included with my machine. Why should I have to purchase another copy? I hung up, mad, and called Microsoft back. I requested a quote for a new version of XP thinking to myself that if I'm going to have to buy another copy I had might as well get the XP Professional version. $325.00!!!

So, to say the least - I was mad! I had been duped out of money for an operating system that I had already purchased once before but, because of a hard drive failure and an expired warranty, I had to purchase it again. This event is what spurred my interest in all things open source - i.e. Linux.

I now run Ubuntu 8.04 on that same machine that is now eleven years old. I get free software, free updates, and I'm free to modify any of the programs in any way I want (although I can't because I'm not a programmer but it is nice knowing that I could do it anyway). If my hard drive crashes again, I'll just download another free copy of Ubuntu and keep right on rolling. For Free!

Long Live Linux.