Most people are surprised to see that they have a running, usable computer after installing Linux; most distributions contain ample support for video and network cards, monitors and other external devices, so there is usually no need to install extra drivers. Also common tools such as office suites, web browsers, E-mail clients and such are included in the main distributions. Even so, an initial installation might not meet your requirements.
If you just can't find what you need, maybe it is not installed on your system. It may also be that you have the required software, but it does not do what it is supposed to do. Remember that Linux moves fast, and software improves on a daily basis. Don't waste your time troubleshooting problems that might already be resolved.
You can update your system or add packages to it at any time you want. Most software comes in packages. Extra software may be found on your installation CDs or on the Internet. The website of your Linux distribution is a good place to start looking for additional software and contains instructions about how to install it on your type of Linux, see Appendix A. Always read the documentation that comes with new software, and any installation guidelines the package might contain. All software comes with a README file, which you are very strongly advised to read.
RPM, the RedHat Package Manager, is a powerful package manager that you can use to install, update and remove packages. It allows you to search for packages and keeps track of the files that come with each package. A system is built-in so that you can verify the authenticity of packages downloaded from the Internet. Advanced users can build their own packages with RPM.
An RPM package consists of an archive of files and meta-data used to install and erase the archive files. The meta-data includes helper scripts, file attributes, and descriptive information about the package. Packages come in two varieties: binary packages, used to encapsulate software to be installed, and source packages, containing the source code and recipe necessary to produce binary packages.
Many other distributions support RPM packages, among the popular ones Mandrake and SuSE Linux. Apart from the advice for your distribution, you will want to read man rpm.
Most packages are simply installed with the upgrade option, whether the package is already installed or not. The RPM package contains a complete version of the program, which overwrites existing versions or installs as a new package.
New kernel packages, however, are installed with the install option which does not overwrite existing version(s) of the package, least to be able to boot your system with the old kernel if the new one does not work.
The RPM HOWTO contains further references.
This package format is the default on Debian GNU/Linux, where dselect is the standard tool for managing the packages. It is used to select packages that you want to install or upgrade, but it will also run during the installation of a Debian system and help you to define the access method to use, to list available packages and to configure packages.
The Debian web site contains all information you need, including a "dselect Documentation for Beginners".
The largest part of Linux programs is Free/Open Source, so source packages are available for these programs. Source files are needed for compiling your own program version. Sources are provided when you install development packages or can be downloaded from the particular web site for a program, in the raw (program-version.tar.gz or similar) or packaged in an RPM or Debian package.
Specific requirements, dependencies and installation instructions are provided in the README file. You will probably need a C compiler, gcc. This GNU C compiler is included in most Linux systems and is ported to many other platforms.
The first thing you do after installing a new system is applying updates; this applies to all operating systems and Linux is not different.
The updates for most Linux systems can usually be found on a nearby site mirroring your distribution. Lists of sites offering this service can be found at your distribution's web site, see Appendix A.
Updates should be applied regularly, daily if possible - but every couple of weeks would be a reasonable start. You really should try to have the most recent versions of all packages, since Linux changes constantly. As we said before, new features, improvements and bug fixes are supplied at a steady rhythm, and sometimes important security problems are addressed. All this not because Linux is a sloppy system, but rather because the Linux user is not easily satisfied. We want our software to be the best, but getting there and staying there demands some flexibility.
The good news is that most Linux distributions provide tools so that you don't have to upgrade tens of packages daily by hand. The following sections give an overview of "package manager managers." There is much more to this subject, even regular updates of source packages is manageable automatically; we only list the most commonly known systems. Always refer to the documentation for your specific distribution for advised procedures.
The Advanced Package Tool is a management system for software packages. The command line tool for handling packages is apt-get, which comes with an excellent man page describing how to install and update packages and how to upgrade singular packages or your entire distribution. APT has its roots in the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, where it is the default manager for the Debian packages. APT has been ported to work with RPM packages as well. The main advantage of APT is that it is free and flexible to use. It will allow you to set up systems similar to the distribution specific (and in some cases commercial) ones listed in the next sections.
More information can be found in the APT HOWTO.
RedHat Linux has the up2date, the Update Agent, which provides a complete system for updating the RPM packages on a RedHat Linux system. Both command line and graphical interfaces are supported. Use for one machine is free, but for updating multiple systems you need to subscribe to RedHat Network web interface and pay a fee per host.
On SuSE Linux, everything is done with YaST, Yet another Setup Tool, which supports a wide variety of system administration tasks, among which updating RPM packages. Starting from SuSE Linux 7.1 you can also upgrade using a web interface and YOU, Yast Online Update.
Mandrake Linux provides so-called URPMI tools, a set of wrapper programs that make installing new software easier for the user. These tools combine with RPMDrake and MandrakeUpdate to provide everything needed for smooth install and uninstall of software packages. MandrakeOnline offers an extended range of services and can automatically notify administrators when updates are available for your particular Mandrake system. Also the KDE and Gnome desktop suites have their own (graphical) versions of package managers, such as gnorpm and KPackage.
Ximian, a Linux desktop software vendor, has developed RedCarpet, a graphical tool that you can use to subscribe to different upgrade "channels". Different channels are available for upgrading a series of Linux distributions and versions, and for upgrading individual Ximian products, such as the Ximian desktop, the E-mail client Evolution, the upgrade tool itself and much more.
Ximian currently supports RedHat, Debian, Mandrake, Solaris, SuSE and YellowDog systems.
Most Linux installations are fine if you periodically upgrade your distribution. The upgrade procedure will install a new kernel when needed and make all necessary changes to your system. You should only compile or install a new kernel manually if you need kernel features that are not supported by the default kernel included in your Linux distribution.
Whether compiling your own optimized kernel or using a pre-compiled kernel package, install it in co-existence with the old kernel until you are sure that everything works according to plan.
Then create a dual boot system that will allow you to choose which kernel to boot by updating your boot loader configuration file grub.conf. This is a simple example:
# grub.conf generated by anaconda # # Note that you do not have to rerun grub after making config changes. # NOTICE: You have a /boot partition. This means that # all kernel and initrd paths are relative to /boot/, e.g. # root (hd0,0) # kernel /vmlinuz-version ro root=/dev/hde8 # initrd /initrd-version.img #boot=/dev/hde default=0 timeout=10 splashimage=(hd0,0)/grub/splash.xpm.gz title Red Hat Linux new (2.4.9-31) root (hd0,0) kernel /vmlinuz-2.4.9-31 ro root=/dev/hde8 initrd /initrd-2.4.9-31.img title old-kernel root (hd0,0) kernel /vmlinuz-2.4.9-21 ro root=/dev/hde8 initrd /initrd-2.4.9-21.img
After the new kernel has proven to work, you may remove the lines for the old one from the GRUB config file, although it is best to wait a couple of days just to be sure.
This is basically done in the same way as installing packages manually, except that you have to append the file system of the CD to your machine's file system to make it accessible. On most systems, this will be done automatically upon insertion of a CD in the drive. If not, issue the mount command in a terminal window. Depending on your actual system configuration, a line similar to this one will usually do the trick:
mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom
For automation purposes, the CD drive usually has an entry in /etc/fstab, which lists the file systems and their mount points, that make up your file system tree. This is such a line:
[david@jupiter ~] grep cdrom /etc/fstab /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom iso9660 noauto,owner,ro 0 0
This indicates that the system will also understand the command mount /mnt/cdrom.
You may even try to right click on the CD icon on your desktop to mount the CD if your file manager doesn't do it for you. You can check whether it worked issuing the mount command with no arguments:
[david@jupiter ~] mount | grep cdrom /dev/cdrom on /mnt/cdrom type iso9660 (ro,nosuid,nodev)
After mounting the CD, you can change directories, usually to the mount point /mnt/cdrom, where you can access the content of the CD-ROM. Use rpm just like described in the above section to install additional packages.
In order to get the CD out of the drive after you've finished using it, the file system on the CD should be unused. Even being in one of the subdirectories of the mount point, /mnt/cdrom in our example, will be considered as "using the file system", so you should get out of there. Do this for instance by typing cd with no arguments, which will put you back in your home directory. After that, you can either use the command
NEVER force the drive. The trick with the paperclip is a bad idea, because this will eventually expunge the CD, but your system will think the CD is still there because normal procedures were not followed. Chances are likely that you will have to reboot to get the system back in a consistent state.
If you keep getting "device busy" messages, check first that all shell sessions have left the CD file system and that no graphical applications are using it anymore. When in doubt, use the lsof tool to trace down the process(es) still using the CD resource.