posted by Kevin Russo on Thu 31st Mar 2005 18:40 UTC
IconI read a lot of reviews comparing GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows, and inevitably the topic of installing software comes up. Most reviews indicate that installing software in Windows is much easier than that of the desktop GNU/Linux world. I decided to do my own comparison based on my desktop usage to see the difference. The following are my results. Those of you that come from the Windows world may be a tad bit surprised at the ease in which software can be installed.

Note: This article is the personal opinion of the author and not necessarily that of OSNews'.

The Windows box I used for this test consisted of 500 MHZ Intel P3 processor with 384 megs of RAM. The Debian box is an old AMD K6-2 366Mhz processor with 128 Megs of RAM. I have a broadband DSL connection that gets a 1.5 megabit a second download speed.

There are several ways to install software on a GNU/Linux distribution. One of the ways is to get a source "tar ball" unpack it, and issue the commands "./configure" "make " "su -c 'make install' " this will work on every GNU/Linux distro available. However there is a problem with this method: it's called "dependency hell." The program that you are trying to install may depend on other libraries that are not installed on your system, and this will prevent the program from installing cleanly or even operating until the dependencies are met. The additional libraries that are needed may also depend on even more libraries hence the term dependency hell.

One of the ways around this is to pick a distro that has an excellent package management system, such as Debian, which uses the apt-get package management system, or Vidalinux, which is based on Gentoo but designed for the desktop, and uses the Portage source tree. Package managers must be linked to a repository. A repository is simply an FTP or HTTP server that has the software configured for a particular distro. For example: Vidalinux is linked to the Gentoo's Portgage tree which contains over 8000 packages. Debian is set up to link to either the stable, testing or unstable branch of their repository.

Debian, as stated above, uses the apt-get package management system that is shared by several distros that are based upon Debian, including, Ubuntu, Libranet, Mepis ,and Xandros, to name only a very few. The Debian repository also has thousands of titles to its credit. Installing software is as simple as opening a terminal and typing "apt-get install [ package name ]". The package managers listed not only install the desired package but also install any dependencies that the package may have, effectively eliminating dependency hell. Other distros, Linspire, for exmple, are making the installation of software even easer by placing icons on the desktop that link to the distro's repository. Simply click the icon, which opens your browser and directs you to the site, then click the desired software that you wish to install. Another way to install software on a GNU/Linux system is by getting a precompiled package in the form of an RPM. Distros such as RedHat, Suse and Mandrake use this format as well as their own individual package managers. Don't be confused, however; not all distros are RPM based. With an RPM based system, installing software can be as simple as typing the command "rpm -ivh [ package name ]". Providing that all dependencies are met, and you have a broadband connection, your software will be installed in a matter of only a few seconds.

Virtually any package made can be installed on a Gentoo system right after its release, once it's added to the Portage tree. Because it is a source-based distro, their repository changes daily as new source packages are added, unlike the other methods where you may have to wait for a package compiled for your distro. One other problem with source-based installs is long compile times, as you will see. It can take hours to install a program by source, even on modern equipment.

I needed a program for this demonstration that was cross-platform to be fair, so I choose the Word Processor Abiword. This a an excellent word Processor and, as stated earlier, is available for multiple platforms including the Macintosh. This article assumes that you know what program you are looking for.

Let's start out with doing the installation on the Debian based computer first

Step 1 Open terminal
Step 2 type "su -" to gain root privileges
Step 3 enter password
Step 4 type "apt-get install abiword" hit enter
Step 5 type "y" for yes when prompted whether or not you want to install the package.

15 seconds later I was opening Abiword and it was ready for use.

I executed the install procedure once again this time using Vidalinux. Vidalinux is a distribution that is installed with pre-compiled packages for a particular processor or i686 architecture and is designed to be used as a Desktop OS. It uses Gentoo's Portage tree to gain access to additional packages. It installs the software by compiling the source code. I issued the command "emerge abiword". Approx 34 minutes later on a system consisting of a Celeron 2.8 Ghz processor with 256MB of RAM, abiword was ready to go. Although installing the program on Vidalinux was time consuming, it is still shorter in steps and an easier process than installing software on Windows.

Now for the Windows installation.
Step 1 open web browser
Step 2 navigate to abisource.com The home page of abiword
Step 3 find and click the download link
Step 4 find and click the Windows Link
Step 5 click OK to save when the dialog box opens
Step 6 wait approx 45 seconds for download
Step 7 close browser and all other running programs.
Step 8 navigate to the setup icon and double click it
step 9 select Language click OK
Step 10 click next when the setup wizard appears.
Step 11 agree to license, click next
Step 12 choose file associations, click next
Step 13 choose Location for installation, click next
Step 14 choose start menu folder options, click next
Wait for installation, approx 35 seconds, click next when completed
Step 15 click finish.

As this plainly shows, I believe that GNU/Linux distros such as Vidalinux and Debian have the upper hand at installing the average desktop users software. I know some will complain about a 34 minute compile time, but if you do you are missing the point. Installing software on a GNU/Linux system does not have to be a tedious task for a desktop user, as thousands of programs are only a very short command away. This may not be a typical procedure for all of GNU/Linux, but there are many excellent desktop distros available today that use apt-get as their package manager making software installation just as easy as above. It is also worth noting that these are not the only two packagers managers available. Fedora uses YUM by default and it can be linked to several different repositories allowing access to thousands of additional packages with the same ease of use.

Score:
GNU/Linux 5
Windows 15

It's like Golf the lower score wins. However I know some will dispute this and still stick by the notion that installing software in Windows is still easier, but let go of your preconceptions, and give Linux a try, and you'll see.

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