January 10, 2002, 12:00 AM — One of the greatest strengths of Linux, its freedom, can also be a
great weakness. For example, there are hundreds of different Linux
distributions, each slightly different. That's a great win if you want
a particular Linux set up, but all the choices may be more confusing
than helpful if you're new to Linux.
Software package formats only adds to the confusion. While the Windows
world has all but standardized on setup.exe programs to install new
applications, each major Linux distribution has its own packaging
format for Linux applications. For example, Slackware Linux uses .tgz
(compressed tar archives), Debian uses apt package files, and Red Hat
promotes its Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) format -- one of the most
commonly-used packaging formats and used by Red Hat and SuSE
Thousands of applications are available for Linux, but the divergence
in release packaging can make installing new applications hard. With
most packages in RPM format, you download a file ending in .rpm and
then you use the rpm command-line program to install the application,
with a command like the following:
rpm -ihv filename.rpm
In many cases, you need to be logged in as the root user to install the
new application. That's a double whammy for new Linux users, with a
command-line tool and a special user login.
To help with all this, especially for people really new to Linux, you
can use an installation program such as RPM Wizard. RPM Wizard
(http://www.nic.fi/~bjorklof), presents a wizard-like interface for
installing Linux packages. Named after the RPM format, RPM Wizard can
help make command-line-phobic newcomers feel more at home.
All RPM Wizard really does is run the equivalent of the rpm command
under the hood. RPM Wizard displays a wizard-like dialog that allows
you to select the RPM file to install and then leads you through a few
screens to install a new application. Ironically, you can download an
RPM file of the RPM Wizard package and install it with the rpm command.
In addition to RPM Wizard, another useful tool is GnoRPM, available at