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Installing Linux Software 

Added: 09/17/2003, Hits: 3,494, Rating: 0, Comments: 0, Votes: 0
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By Alexis Laliberte

First things first
One of the biggest problems with Linux is that a lot of people will install it out of curiosity but don't know what to do with it once it is installed.

Well, one thing you can do is install and use software. In fact, Linux is all about software as most of it is free (under GNU or BSD license).

Where can you find software?

Here are a couple of interesting links:
  • has an option to search for Linux software (go to advanced search and modify the Operating system from All OS to Linux).

  • Tucows has a linux section at

  • is the home of many software projects.

  • will always find whatever you need.

What are those strange names?
So now you know where to go for software, but what software do you need? When I got started with Linux I found that looking for Windows equivalents was my biggest challenge. Every software package had a strange name that meant nothing to me. I felt like I did back in 95 when Windows came out. So here is a translation page for you guys. It doesn't contain everything and you are likely to find better software than the ones I am listing here but these are the ones I like. It will help you find what you need!

Microsoft OfficeOpenOffice
Internet ExplorerMozilla or Opera
Winamp XMMS, winamp3
PhotoshopThe Gimp
Kazaa, Limewire, etcmldonkey (compatible with kazaa, limewire, etc)
Winzip, RAR Tar, gzip
Acrobat readerGhost View (can make pdf's too!), Xpdf
Norton anti-virusDr Web, OpenAntivirus
Nero, EZCD CreatorXcdroast, Gnome Toaster, K3b
AudioCatalyst, Windac (cdrip)Grip
Windows Media Player, RealXine, Aviplay, Winamp3

Software Formats
As in Windows, Linux programs come in different types of packages. For example, a Windows program can be dowloaded in .zip format, .rar, or in Setup.exe format. The same goes for Linux. You can download a program with many different options as follows:
  • Source files: This is often raw code and needs to be compiled. We will cover that later.

  • Binary files: this is more or less like a setup.exe file. It is compiled and ready to be installed.

  • tar.gz: (tarball) This is a compressed package just like a windows zip file. Most of the time it will contain either source files of binary files.

  • .rpm: (RedHat Package...) Although RedHat Linux developped this, you will find it in other distributions like Mandrake.

  • .deb: (Debian Package) This is similar to rpm files but it is a somewhat improved. More on this later.

Compiling Those Ugly Files!!!
It have no doubt in my mind that one day you will want to install software and encounter a tarball with no information other than a readme file with strange instructions. The file will talk at length about the changes made in this new version but the setup instructions might contain something like “Make the software using normal procedures”. Talk about a friendly way of getting people into Linux! Anyway, the general procedure to “make” your software is the following:
  1. Be sure you have dowloaded the software to an easy to find place. I recommend your home folder as it is easy to find with the shell (command prompt).

  2. If the software was compressed (inside a tar.gz file), decompress it by double clicking on it (drag and drop the folder in it). If you want to do it hardcore you can use the tar command like this: tar xzf name_of_file

  3. Now you have to get to the file using the shell (command prompt). Once you are in the same folder, you need to type the following commands:

    Code :

    make install

  4. If you are lucky, this should do it. If not, here are a couple of tips to help you:
    • Very often, the problems are related to Linux distributions being different. If the programmer of the software you are trying to install has coded his software using Mandrake and you are using RedHat, small differences may exist in the environment variables. Sometimes this can be enough to prevent a proper installation. To see your environment variables, type the env command. Env will allow you to temporarily modify your environment for the software.

    • Also, sometimes the software has been done with a library or in a code that you don't have in your box. In this case we say that the software depends on another to function. You will generally have an error message stating that something is missing for the installation to complete. The best thing to do in this case is to look for information about this missing file. Eg: If the make process tells you that you have a missing pblablabla file then you can search for this file in google. You will probably find out that the file is related to Python or php meaning that the coder is using Python in his software. You should then install Python or php and then restart the make process.

RPM packages were developed to ease the setup process by determining the missing pieces that your new application will need before going through installation. This is called determining the dependencies as your software may need other components to work properly and is very easy to set up.

Sometimes double-clicking an rpm file will open a gui tool to help you install the application. Sometimes this will not work so I strongly suggest you learn to use the RPM command.

To install a rpm using the terminal, simply open a terminal window, browse to the proper directory then type the following command:

Code :

rpm -U packagename.rpm

If the package needs other parts to work properly, you will get output listing those dependencies (which means you will have to install other rpms before continuing).

RedHat 9 has a Gui interface to manage RPMs. Its located in hat menu, system settings, add/remove applications.

To find any missing rpm, you can take a look at

DEB files
These are almost the same as RPMs in that they are installation packages that verify dependencies. The good thing about deb files is that they are supposed to do a better job at this than RPMs. There is much controversy over this but I find that DEB files are just as good at installing software and twice as good at uninstalling software. The reason for this is a better management of installed files.

You can use the apt command to manage deb files. I suggest you use this excellent HOWTO to learn more about this.

Finally, one thing to remember is that bad software exists!!! This can happen even in Linux. If you come across a problem, I recommend you contact the author (or group of developers) of the software to report the bug. You will find that most people in the linux community are helpful and glad to give a hand.

I wish you good luck in your installs!

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