Ramblings of a Professional Computer Geek

August 18, 2009

Why All The ‘How To Install…’ Articles?

Filed under: Linux,Open Source — Padma @ 9:23 am
Tags: , , , ,

As I’ve perused the various Linux news sites and blogs, one thing I notice is all the “How to Install <program X> in Ubuntu” – type articles.  Each time I see one, my first thought is, “don’t people know how to use Synaptic?  Or ‘Add/Remove Programs’ ?”

To be fair, Ubuntu and its brethren aren’t the only distros that I see with these articles, but they probably have 80 – 90 percent of them.  The reason, I’m sure, is that Ubuntu is the most popular distro among Windows-refugees, fueled in large part by the perception they have that Linux = Ubuntu.  Kind of a self-perpetuating cycle. 😉

But, back to the point at hand.  Why do users need all the “How To Install…” articles?  Do they simply not comprehend how package managers work?  Are the articles simply catering to the common Windows perception that software must be obtained from random places on the internet, and installed separately?  Do major distro developers not know how to package updated versions for their current users?  Is the “fixed-point release” methodology of major distros to blame?

Almost none of the articles are simple “Open Synaptic, find the package, select for installing, and click apply”.  Sometimes they do point to a specific “ppa” repository, but it’s still followed up by a lot of command-line configuring to get it right.  Usually, it’s “go to this website and grab the tarball….”  I could understand if these were obscure, niche programs, but they’re almost invariably popular applications that I am sure exist in the primary repositories.

I know Windows users are used to installing software from random locations on the web.  I used to do it, too.  Maybe this just scratches that itch, to go searching the web for the software to install.  Maybe it makes them feel better about themselves, because they can do this “difficult Linux thing”.  You know, “Linux is different from Windows.  It must be hard.  See, look at how much work it takes to get a fully functional system.”

The distros themselves bear some of the responsibility, to be sure.  With fixed-point releases, new versions of software tend to go into the testing area for the next release point, just a few months away.  They rarely seem to get backported to older releases that people are still running (except maybe to Long-Term Support releases).  When people ask for newer versions of their software, they are told to simply upgrade their systems.  Never mind that release “Y” broke some functionality from release “X” that the user needs, and is why they never upgraded in the first place.

I’ll just stick with a rolling-release distro.  As new versions of applications are made, they get packaged and tested against the current system, and are made available for all users to install.  My nearly three-year-old install of PCLinuxOS2007, through the “magic” of periodic updates, is running exactly the same software as does a system that just had a 2009.2 install.

Maybe I’m just getting to old to understand.



  1. I’m an ex PCLinuxOS user, now using Ubuntu (On the grounds that it is the only distro to support my graphics card AND my wireless network card). I think part of the reason for this (especially when paired with the common Linux = Ubuntu attitude you mentioned here) is that Ubuntu is terrible for updating their repos.

    If I want say, Firefox 3.5 on my ubuntu system, which has 9.04, the latest version, my choices are:

    * Install the firefox-3.5 package in the repos which last I checked was 3.5 RC2 NOT the stable release. This is when Firefox 3.5.1 had just came out.
    * Install a PPA. This is confusing for some users. I’m still not 100% sure how they work myself, just that they do.
    * Find a .deb to download (haven’t seen any).
    * Uninstall Ubuntu’s Firefox, and install Mozilla’s build. (Option I went with, and encountered a few issues. Fixable, but not easy).

    When is the final version of 3.5 going to be in ubuntu’s repos as the firefox package? Next release.

    This is repeated accross many packages. Want the latest version of eclipse? Do it yourself. Apache? Do it yourself. PHP? Do it yourself.

    Also, which Linux users are most likely to need these tutorials? The noobs. Which ones are going to be using Ubuntu? The noobs. So 90% of these articles would be completely obsolete, IF Ubuntu updated it’s repos. As it is, I’m guessing their policy is security updates only between releases.

    Comment by Macha — September 4, 2009 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

    • You have a point. I found *1* – noobs. And I found *1* – repos only updated at release. I just failed to put 1 + 1 together to get *2* – A noob needs somebody to help them get the latest software if the repos don’t get updated.

      Comment by Padma — September 4, 2009 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

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