In Part 1, Tanker Bob describes his motivation to avoid Windows Vista like a large, plague-infected rat and what he did about it. In Part 2, we covered the Linux landscape and how Tanker Bob's initial install of Kubuntu Linux went (very well, thank you.)
A Tale of Two Software Paths
The Windows software routine is familiar to all. If you want software to do something, you ask your friends, visit pertinent websites, user forums, computer stores, sift through pages of Google output, and hope for the best. There are some great programs out there, but no central place or easy way to find what you need. Not only does this make life difficult for newbies, it also opens the casual user to scams like the spam cleaners that lie about problems on your computer to get you to buy them. Plus, you have no clue what files will be placed on your system and where. Oh yeah, and get out your wallet.
Most Linux distributions take a different approach. Ubuntu has repositories which hold almost all the software you will ever need. You access repositories through package managers. I've illustrated KPackage here?the one that I like and use the most under Kubuntu (Adept is the default for Ubuntu and some other distributions). You can see that packages are clearly delineated as already installed or that they would be new to your machine. Using the appropriate tabs you can view all the software that you have installed as well as their supporting libraries. Or, you can choose the New tab to see only what's out there that you don't have installed.
Upon highlighting a package name on the left side, its description and other information appears on the right side. This includes the primary developer and the home page of the project. In addition, other tabs on the right will show you the entire file list and where each file was or would be installed as well as viewing the current change log. Everything that you need to know is readily available?just a click away!
The package manager software lists are text searchable (including the description), so you can find what you need quickly and easily. Simply select the package of interest, click on Install, then OK on the next screen. In Debian packages (deb file extension), all library and program dependencies are automatically fulfilled, so the installation requires no further intervention from the user.
Uninstalling works exactly the same way. Just highlight the package that you wish to uninstall, then click Uninstall. For uninstallation, you may also check a box that will ensure associated configuration files are also removed. This is called ?purging?.
By default, only the fully-supported repositories come enabled. Staying with just these will pretty much guarantee a solid, reliable configuration. By checking the boxes next to other repository lines, you can activate ?unsupported? but interesting software sources. These can include non-free codecs, proprietary hardware drivers, and ?experimental? system drivers. All these can enhance your Linux experience, but can also reduce reliability. If you want to stay completely Free Open Source, then simply do not enable the Ubuntu-unsupported repositories. And BTW, ?unsupported? simply means that the distribution developers, Ubuntu in this case, don't directly support the software or its integration into their system. All the ?unsupported? software has full support from their individual development teams. Don't be tripped up by the term ?unsupported? in the Linux world. We aren't talking about orphans here.
There are other ways to install software in Linux. Many users prefer to use utilities like apt-get or aptitude from the shell command line. These programs also ensure that application and library dependencies are met. Older Red Hat RPM-type packages had a huge problem with dependencies, leaving users to fix the results. The Debian DEB packages that Ubuntu also uses have been designed to resolve all such issues. My experience so far proves this out. KPackage will also install RPM packages by first converting them to DEB format using a program called alien and working the dependencies. This proved a handy deal, because some ?commercial? and third-party software only come in RPM or source formats, though DEB popularity is growing.
As a last resort, programs may be compiled by the user from their source files. This isn't for the faint of heart, so won't be covered here in any detail. However, recompiling may be required for some proprietary and commercial software whenever the operating system core (the kernel) is updated. More on that later. The advantage of installing from source files is that they will work on any Linux system. You should rarely ever have to resort to this method unless you live on the very bleeding edge.
Tanker Bob's Must-Haves
The basic KDE desktop system comes with almost everything you need for common use. But Tanker Bob could never settle for that. My first install set included the excellent KDE file manager Krusader, which traces its interface's lineage back through Total Commander for Windows and even further to Norton Commander of yesteryear. NVU provides a nice WYSIWYG website editor which I now use to maintain my own site. The only shortcoming that I've found so far is that NVU doesn't support frames. The xine player and associated codecs stand as the most complete for playing all sorts of multimedia content. Although the xine player itself isn't anything about which to write home, its outstanding engine can be used by almost every other media player. So, install xine, its libraries and codecs, then choose the xine backend for your favorite media player?Kaffine in my case. xine also has a nice plug-in for Firefox.
Streamtuner taps online streaming music sources like Shoutcast, and teams nicely with the simple VLC media player. VLC shows the title of the currently streaming song in the status bar, something most other players do not do. Note that Streamtuner was made for the GNOME desktop and teams with GNOME's media player, shell console, and help program. I edited the Applications setup in Streamtuner to use the KDE equivalents. If you don't want to do that, just install the GNOME programs that it needs. They'll work fine under KDE.
Streamtuner also comes with a nice recording capability called Streamripper. Although it operates in the command shell, it does so automatically so that the user only has to click on the record button in Streamtuner. For more visual pursuits, digiKam is a very nice photo management program that will download pictures directly from your camera to your disk. It also allows users to touch up pictures before printing, even sporting an Autofix function that does a great job of cleaning up photos with just one click.
The quintessential graphics program for Linux is GIMP. It provides sophisticated editing tools to do whatever you can imagine, and works with photos as well as other graphics. It will also convert between graphic formats. It will also take input directly from your scanner to manipulate, save, or print.
On the non-supported repository side, I had to have NVidia's proprietary drivers, without which you won't get enhanced 3D functions or top speed out of your expensive NVidia video-chip driven card. This installation can be very tricky, so I highly recommend Alberto Milone's Envy script. Envy will identify your video card's chipset, then download, compile, install the correct driver if the card uses an ATI or NVidia GPU, and then modify the display configuration to use the new driver. Envy runs in the command shell, but don't let that scare you off. Do read the entire download page before running Envy?it has some great instructions and hints. I tried and failed three times to get the proprietary video driver to work without Envy, but Envy did it right and I'm fully NVidia functional now with Google Earth. A number of good websites and Ubuntu forum HOWTOs go into great detail about how to install proprietary video drivers, but all you'll ever need is Envy. Thanks, Alberto!
A momentary aside here. Free Software Foundation devotees refer to anything not completely Open Source as ?non-free?. Free for them isn't just a monetary issue, but also freedom from anything not fully open and free from corporate encumbrance. So, even though all the proprietary drivers that I use on my Kubuntu system are monetarily free, the FSF folks do not consider them truly free because they are proprietary to NVidia, Epson, etc.
Now that we have that out of the way, other ?non-free? software worth having includes ntfs-3g, an excellent replacement for the default ntfsmount. ntfs-3g makes all your NTFS partitions accessible for read-write, while ntfsmount provides read-only access to NTFS partitions. Until recently, ntfs-3g was in beta, but the developers just released the 1.0 version. Also important if you want to play mp3, wmv, commercial DVDs, etc., are the proprietary codecs (not technically obtainable in the US) available from the unsupported repositories. Automatix is another script that can install a lot of popular software like Google Earth and the proprietary mutlimedia codecs, but some say that it can cause problems when you update your system. I personally haven't had an issue with it.
Oh, and did I mention that all this doesn't cost a single penny? Many thanks to the plethora of volunteer developers that make this all possible!
Teasers For Next Episode
In the next installment, Tanker Bob will cover setting up a Windows virtual machine under Linux, including accessing Linux drives from Windows and visa-versa. I'll also cover how I got the scanner in my Epson all-in-one to work.
Y'all come back now, ya hear?
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