How Linux app install leaves one PC expert befuddled

How Linux app install leaves one PC expert befuddled

Summary: Adrian, you dumb arse!At least that was my initial reaction when I read his “Linux's dirty little secret” column about his struggles with installing applications onto a Linux distro.


failadrian.jpgAdrian, you dumb arse!

At least that was my initial reaction when I read his “Linux's dirty little secret” column about his struggles with installing applications onto a Linux distro. It was either the Linux Geek rage originating from the knowing that he didn't Read the Fine Manual (RTFM) or the sheer jealousy of not getting 300+ Talkbacks whenever I post something on ZDNet like the fine Mr. Kingsley-Hughes. But I digress.

You can't really blame Adrian, though. Adrian is a relatively new Linux user – he comes from the world of Windows, where you double click on a SETUP.EXE icon and minutes later, you've got an application installed on your system. With Linux, that's not the case – different package standards between distributions and lack of standardization in software manifest tools has created a situation where on the most of the major Linux distros, you have Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) files and on others, namely Ubuntu and Debian, you have Debian Archives (.DEB).

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

To add further complexity into the situation, the RPMs and DEBs used on one distro are not necessarily compatible with the RPMs or DEBs on another. And some software doesn't come in a neat little package format – they come as good 'ol compressed tarballs (tar.gz or tar.bz2). Case in point, if you want to use the very latest builds of anything from a Open Source project such as Mozilla or, and don't want to wait for your distribution to spoon feed it to you over their network repositories, you need to un-Gzip or un-Bzip2 and tar extract the software to a directory and make manual symbolic links to the executables and launch icons on the desktop. Fun, right?

Granted, Adrian's specific problem could have been solved by consulting Ubuntu Forums or going to VMWare's fine Communities  web site, where the VMWare Tools installation procedure is documented in detail. VMWare Tools is unique because it was primarily designed to use with Enterprise Linux distributions, such as RHEL and SLES – and because it is so tightly integrated with the Linux Kernel, it requires that specific driver modules be built for each distribution's kernel, at each specific version level. For RHEL and SLES, you just need to install a single RPM file and run the configuration script, as everything is pre-built -- these distros don't change that quickly, so VMWare is safe with only needing to build modules for them periodically. But in the case of poor Adrian and Ubuntu 8.04, where the distro is refreshed every six months, you have to un-gzip-tar the software, install the linux-source and linux-headers, and install the build-essential package which contains all the necessary compiler and developer tool dependencies to build the kernel modules. THEN he can run the installer script. Got it? Good.

Fortunately, the problem will eventually just “Go Away” -- the VMWare Tools package was released into Open Source, and eventually, every distribution will just have it built-in, like the newly released OpenSUSE 11 which is already VMWare enabled. I suspect that within short notice, open-vm-tools as well as the Microsoft Hyper-V hypercall adapter modifications to Xen and the Sun xVM VirtualBox tools will all be available in Ubuntu and any distribution that wants to use them. My sources tell me even ultra-geeky Gentoo, the source based distro popular with embedded systems and boot CDs, has it available.

This is all fine and dandy for VMWare Tools, but it's hardly a happy ending for the balance of Linux users. Yes, the Linux desktop experience is improving. Yes, plenty of software is available on the download repositories for a lot of distributions, especially Ubuntu. But until this stuff is totally foolproof, even seasoned PC experts like Adrian are going to be thrown through a loop.

Do we need form a concerted effort to make Linux applications easier to install? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Software, CXO, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, VMware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • YES!!!!

    As long as applications are as difficult as they are to install on <insert whatever version of Linux you favor here>, how in God's name does anyone expect Linux to be adopted by the masses???
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • Applications ALWAYS install on Windows WITHOUT any sort of problem

      of course ;-)
      • Where did he say that? Any chance you could actually...

        ...argue against what people say instead of something you conjure up?
        • Well I'll argue against what he said...

          if he actually said something. But what he has done is make a broad sweeping statement with no facts. What I would like to see is a list of these applications that are so difficult to install. I know of a couple like VMware and the Nvidia drivers. But after that I really don't see the problem. I try all kinds of stuff and I have not run into many projects that don't have a .DEB. In fact I have been very pleased to visit sites like Amazon Music, Opera and Skype and find packages for multiple distros.

          I'm just not seeing this major install problem.
          • Make that one ...

            [i]I know of a couple like VMware and the Nvidia drivers[/i]

            Scratch Nvidia off that list since most main stream distros include the drivers in the repositories. Ubuntu's versions are usually current or one recent version behind what is available at Nvidia. Unless you want "bleeding edge" there's no need to install the drivers from Nvidia, just use the repositories.
          • You are correct..

            And you answered a question for me. I was not aware of how close the distros kept up with the Nvidia releases. So I started using the drivers from Nvidia at one point but after I saw that there was not much difference from the repository drivers I switched back anyway. So yes there's only one example so far.
          • Nothing to do with fr0thy2 post. (nt)

          • The original post...

            is what I was arguing against. He made a blanket statement that Linux applications are hard to install and I'm wanting to see a list of these average user applications.
          • But the OP did not say Windows programs ALWAYS install...

            ...WITHOUT any problems. Which is what I was responding to. If you were responding to the OP you should have responded to their post and not mine.
          • Firefox for one

            It took me over 30 minutes to update from the beta firefox that came with hardy heron, to the ff3 release. Why? Because I didn't know what the hell was going on. Am I an idiot? No. Am I a linux n00b? Yes. So much talk about how great the new ubuntu is, I had to try it out. So I go to FF site, and download the 3.0 release, and install (or, rather , just unpack it seems) to a directory. I hit the FF icon on the brings up the beta. Well crap I says. I look through the file system. Where is it? Who knows? I find all the FF directories I can, and delete them all, then re-install the downloaded ff3. I hit the ff icon, and the beta launches still. WTF? How is this? So finally I figure out that I have to go an manually edit where the icon points to. Why? By contrast, I download ff3 for Windows, click the install file, and it installs. I then click the same icon I used for ff2 and guess what? ff3 launches. So, there is at least ONE program that is difficult to install on linux. At least, tons more difficult that it is on Windows, and I assume on Mac too.
          • What he said

            I am having fun right now with Java on Ubuntu 8.04. I can't open gameday on There are other uses for it, but I haven't been able to get in installed right. I followed the instruction to the letter, may have been for another distro. Other then these things I like Ubuntu.
          • Stop trying

            Gameday is Windows only. You can stop trying to make it work on Linux and start complaining to MLB.
      • They might install but to get them running correctly......

        Since dual core and quad core cpu's, sli...crossfire and such, it pays to tweak config files so saying what you did was just referring to unzipping the file and hoping for the best. Then you may or may not have a problem. Don't forget the latest patches either.
      • For once you are right...well 99% of them do...nt

      • Dificult installs are a detriment to Linux

        Yes, Windows apps Always install without problems.
        -when the hardware is incompatible
        -The version of windows is incompatible
        -The app is hard coded to reject that version of windows (IE installing Doom3 on a WinME system)

        In the case of Linux, the computer might be capable of running the software, but all the hoops one has to jump through just to install an app is a real pain. And scavenging across forums for 5, 10, 30+ minutees just to find answers isn't my idea of easy, especially when this procedure has to be done over and over and over again.

        Yes following 1-2-3 instructions is easy, time permitting. Doubleclicking an icon is easier.
    • Ever heard of the term "DLL hell"?

      For your review:

      Also with the consistent use of a package management system, such as rpm or deb, library dependency issues can be reduced to the point of non-existence.
      • Yeah.

        From 2002.

        I'm no Windows fan, but be realistic. DLL hell is pretty much a
        thing of the past. Most of the nightmare with Windows is the
        registry, which is a true spawn of satan.
        • Agreed ...

          [i]Most of the nightmare with Windows is the registry, which is a true spawn of satan.[/i]

          Yeah you need some holy water and a priest to chat "cast thy demons out from thy wretched registry, I command thee." This is one of the reasons I use KDE as a desktop since Gnome has a configuration system with a little of that "feeling" I get with the Windows registry, well just enough to induce some post traumatic stress.

          You're right about DLL hell being a thing of the past, but I stopped using Windows as my main OS with 2000 being the last version. ;)
          • The registry is your friend ...

            ... unfortunately, the best way to really learn it is to break it a couple of dozen times. After that, the fear goes away, and you can keep your registry nice and happy.
          • It's you friend ...

            ... the same friend that tries to fsck your girlfriend when you ask him to drive her home because your car broke down. That kind of friend, right? ;)