How does the average Joe patch Linux?

How does the average Joe patch Linux?

Summary: I've owned my copy of Windows XP for 4 years and it will probably be 5 before I update to Vista and I just can't see my self paying the price of Windows XP for a one year subscription of Red Hat Enterprise Workstation basic edition.

TOPICS: Open Source

Dana Blankenhorn asked this interesting question "how does an ordinary open source user manage patches" without paying expensive subscription fees.  But before I answer his question, I want to know how many "ordinary" open source operating system users are there?  Most Linux users still have to be computer savvy in the first place because the mere thought of compiling source code is terrifying for the average Joe.  Fortunately, the GUI and patch management systems in most Linux distributions have gotten much easier but not easy enough to draw in the masses yet.

Red Hat does a pretty good job with their automated patching system that patches everything from Firefox to the OS kernel (with a reboot), but their annual Enterprise support fees makes the cost of buying a copy Windows look cheap.  I've owned my copy of Windows XP for 4 years and it will probably be 5 before I update to Vista and I just can't see my self paying the price of Windows XP for a one year subscription of Red Hat Enterprise Workstation basic edition.  Aside from the high annual costs, I haven't seen anything on the Linux front that matches Microsoft's free WSUS yet which provides a centralized enterprise patch management solution.

Fortunately (or unfortunately if you're Red Hat) there is a nearly free solution from CentOS that is an exact clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux so long as you don't mind being one day behind Red Hat patches.  CentOS is compiled directly from Red Hat GPL source code and the only thing different about CentOS is that every occurrence of the trademarked word "Red Hat" has been replaced with the word "CentOS".  This probably sounds a bit underhanded of CentOS to take the hard work of Red Hat and just give it away for free along with the ongoing maintenance patches, but this is the double edged sword in GPL.  If Red Hat benefits from GPL, then the community gets to benefit from Red Hat.  From a business standpoint, it's unclear how you're suppose to make money from software other than charge high prices for consulting and support contracts, but this only works so long as someone else doesn't undercut your support contract prices.

Topic: Open Source

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  • You're working kinda late George....

    ...but this is a good question at any hour. Anyone out there with experience in CentOS?
    • CentOS is nice, stable, perhaps boring, but in a good way

      I use CentOS 3 on several servers, and I've tried CentOS 4. Everything works as expected. Patches are released in a timely manner. Lots of update mirrors. Good compatibility with third party rpm repositories. Good community support (I assume, but everything works as expected). If you can't get good community support there are many companies that offer paid support for CentOS. Red Hat seems to move a little slow, often rather than upgrading packages to include all bug fixes, selectively backporting only security and stability fixes to their own stable branch, so obviously CentOS moves at the same slow pace. This slowness is good for if you use it on production servers or managed desktops, but a little boring if you use it on a workstation and home desktop. I run the Ubuntu Breezy preview release at home.
    • I'm always up too late

      Trying to get to bed earlier though.

      CentOS is identical to RHEL. The Red Hat patches are a little delayed though.
  • Looking out for YOU

    That's YaST Online Update for the uninitiated. SuSE's patch system. You can either run it like Windows Update (Start, view list, select, install) or set it for automatic updates. No subscription necessary.
    Robert Crocker
  • Xandros Network

    I use Xandros Network to install to update patches to my Dell Inspiron 1100 laptop.
    • Xandros Network

      By the way, its a free service with the purchase of the OS.
  • Here I go, shilling for Gentoo again...

    How do I update my linux systems? 'emerge -- sync && emerge -ud world'. And (with the exception of the binary ebuilds I've chosen to install) that's all built from source. Gentoo has the reputation of being a power-user's distribution, and it is merited, but not because it's a from-source distro. There is always the sentiment that average users don't know the first thing about compiling code. Well, neither do I! My last forray into programming was Java II in college (I think we built an applet that was an ordering system for a fast-food drive-thru). I wouldn't know where to begin if I had to fix source code that wouldn't compile.

    The point is that, not unlike Windows, if you download software for Linux there is usually a readme file that tells you EXACTLY what to do. It's usually './configure && make && make install'. If that works, great. If there are errors, there is often support, and failing that, you didn't pay anything for the program, anyway.

    But beyond all that, most Linux apps are available in binaries. And software like KPackage makes installing RPM or TGZ files easy, including helping to resolve dependencies. IMO, however, nothing beats Portage for that.
    Real World
    • Going to try Gentoo ...


      Just an irrelevant aside, because of your posts I?ve downloaded Gentoo. I haven?t had a chance to install it yet, but it will probably temporarily replace my Slackware installation and will probably become the OS on my next system.
      • Awesome

        It takes patience to get it going, but it is well worth it. Good luck.
        Real World
    • Average users barely understand setup.exe

      "./configure && make && make install" scares normal people.
      • It's copy and paste

        Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing 'Gentoo for the masses', I'm just saying you don't have to be a programmer to build your apps from source.
        Real World
        • But that's my point

          Linux is 95% easy enough for the average user which is a huge improvement of where it's been. Now the question is how do we get them to go the distance? That's the point of the blog.
          • Companies selling pre-installed Linux

            "Now the question is how do we get them to go the distance?"

            Do like these companies and offer it.


      • configure && make

        "./configure && make && make install" scares normal people."

        Scares me too and I've been using Linux for 11 years now.

        I've played with compiling
        but I've never HAD to use it.

        I just use the blissfully simple "synaptic" now.

        You can install hundreds of applications at a time.
        The most I ever tried was 800+ software packages at once. Synaptic just did it. I didn't even have to reboot.

        Debian comes with 16,000+ software packages now.
        • But why can't it be as simple as setup.exe?

          That's what normal users understand.
          • Good idea... let's do that

            echo "emerge --sync && emerge world -uDv" >> setup.exe && chmod u+x setup.exe

            Now all I have to do is click the setup.exe file I just created and made executable. (Actually I call mine "update" rather than "setup.exe", but you get the point.)

            But while we're on the subject, Gentoo isn't for average Joe anyway, unless someone else installs and preconfigures it for him (which OEMs do with Windows anyway). If I were to recommend a Linux distro that an aveerage Joe can both install and maintian with ease I'd suggest SuSE. The YaST administration tool is so easy to use a kid could do it.
            Michael Kelly
          • But why can't it be as simple as setup.exe?

            I find synaptic easier.

            Synaptic keeps an index of all the software packages available.
            You can do a search by package name or description key words.
            You just check the boxes of what you want
            and uncheck the boxes of what you want to remove.

            Then click apply, It tells you when it's done.

            You can even keep browsing the internet while it's working away.

            You usually do NOT have to reboot.

            There IS something similar to a
            setup.exe call klick

            I prefer synaptic.
            With synaptic I get excellent dependency checking
            (opposed to Windows' "dll hell").
            Programs just work.
          • klik

            That should be klik not klick

          • RE: But why can't it be as simple as setup.exe?

            The problem is that setup.exe usually is far too difficult. Setup.exe usually asks the user a lot of stuff, e.g. where he want the program to be insstalled. This is too much for most average Joes. Software updates, and software installation is one of Linux strongest point and Microsoft have a lot to from Linux not the other way round.

            If you use yum with redhat the only question you need to answer is if you want the software or not. Most users are capable of answering yes or no.
            Unlike some setup.exe:s yum always handles dependencies. It also creates a database with descriptions of what actually is installed and what it is used for.

            Using the configure, make, make install procedure is for people who need to modify their software, e.g. developers and not average joes. To do the equivalent of the "configure, make install" thing the windows way, would require you to have visual studio installed. To get that set up correctly you would have to answer questions that not even the most geeky Linux user could answer.

            So you see even in this scenario Linux is much more simple than Windows.

            By the way, you are comparing Apples to Oranges when you compare the free Centos support to that of Red Hat as Red Hat offeres a lot more than just patch download. If that is all you need you probably should use Centos.
      • Aww, gimme a break...

        I'm pretty non-techie and I have never done the whole "configure-make-make install" rigamaroll. Haven't had any need to do so. I'm the family "sysadmin" and I've installed several linux based o/s's on several different kinds of hardware. Most software installs or patches are not very different from the windows "next, next, next" routine.
        How much does redmond slip you to not investigate this stuff, anyway?