Living free with Linux: Round 2

Linux installation issues bedeviled Preston's first foray into the OS. After getting lots of advice on how to solve his problems, he reports on the results.

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The Update Manager

The Update Manager is best used for updating your system software, and any applications that came with your system, rather than any software you've subsequently downloaded. For that reason -- and others noted below -- I've found it confusing to use, although not all Linux users have the same issues with it that I have.

The Update Manager is accessed via the starburst at the top right-hand top of the screen. Click it, but be prepared -- you're about to be confronted with literally hundreds of potential updates with incomprehensible names and unenlightening descriptions.

Here's an example:

easy GNOME menu editing tool
cron-like program that doesn't go by time
Application installer (data files for commercial applications)

By default, every update has a check next to it in the Update Manager. Uncheck the boxes next to those you don't want to update -- I recommend updating only software that you recognize. To quickly uncheck the box next to every update, right-click inside the Recommended updates area and select Uncheck all.

Once all the boxes are unchecked, scroll through the Update Manager, putting checks next to the updates you want to install. When you're done, click Install Updates. A screen appears asking that you type in your password. Click OK. The Update Manager will then automatically download the updates and install them.

Or you can use either Add/Remove or the Synaptic Package Manager. They will both tell you when there are updates, although I've noticed that there tends to be a delay between the time when an update is available and when the Package Manager notes that it's available.

Problems remain

I've somewhat simplified the installation and updating process for Linux. In some important instances, I was unable to update my software using the Synaptic Package Manager or Add/Remove.

The most notable and disturbing instance of this was, the excellent Office suite I use in Linux. The version that came with Ubuntu 8.4 was 2.4, even though 3.0 was available at the time I installed Ubuntu. But 3.0 doesn't show up in either the Synaptics Package Manager or Add/Remove as an option, even several months after 3.0 was made available. There appears to be no way to update it using either of those methods.

Living free with Linux II

Update Manager can be very confusing for Linux newbies.
Click to view larger image

In my earlier article, I described my attempt to update it by downloading the file directly and using the command line -- and ultimately, I was unsuccessful. I wouldn't suggest that the fainthearted attempt this, even if they're command-line veterans like myself.

Worse yet, I use Version 8.04 of Ubuntu, and Version 8.10 is available, but I can't find a way to upgrade to it. The Update Manager, Synaptics Package Manager and Add/Remove don't seem to have a way to do the upgrade, and don't even tell me that it's available.

That's because, I discovered, 8.04 is what's called a Long Term Support (LTS) release, but 8.10 isn't, and by default, the Ubuntu Update Manager won't tell you about releases that are not LTS. And in the Linux world, version numbers serve a different purpose than they do in the Windows world. I'm told that the difference between a Version 8.04 and an 8.10 is like the difference between XP and Vista -- and after all, one wouldn't expect to be able to upgrade directly from XP to Vista via Windows Update, right?

The upshot: Installing and updating software in Linux is not as difficult as my earlier article implied. However, it can still be problematic, as my difficulties in updating show. Still, as I learned, most of the time you'll eventually be able to get what you want out of Linux -- even if you need Round 2 to get you there.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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