Linux 101, Part 3

Dennis Faas's picture

As we continue wandering along, there is one area of Linux operation you need to consider before taking the plunge and installing one of them. In fact, there are lots of things you will need to learn and we will get to those later, that is a promise. But the one area we need to talk about, though, is Updates and the Update process.

Issues with Windows Updates

Thanks to Microsoft's repeated issuance of Critical Updates over the years, the mere mention of the word "update" paints an ugly picture in most people's minds. However, an update in Linux does not need to be either as scary, nor as confusing as a Windows Update.

Due to the nature of MS Windows, the updates downloaded from Microsoft tend to be huge and complicated. They often occur frequently and don't always resolve problems they are intended to address.

As I've mentioned before, this is due to Windows being a single, massive application. A change in one area of the software can affect another as well as having additional errors raising their ugly heads.

It's also common to see patches on top of patches, which can cause other strange and unwanted problems. As a result, changes in behavior of the whole package can be expected. I have also seen where an MS Update has actually broken Windows to the extent that the user needed to reinstall Windows from scratch in order to "undo" the damage that had been done. It is no wonder we look upon the word 'update' with a jaundiced eye.

Comparing Windows Updates to Linux Updates

Since Linux is a collection of programs, the update process is highly selective and much different than that of a Windows Update.

Furthermore, "updating" does not address the whole of the Linux installation (as it does with Windows). Rather, it addresses the various modules and components that make up the Linux system as individual programs.

This approach to software tends to make updating far more accurate and complete since, frequently, the entire updated program is replaced, and not "patched."

Another benefit of Linux updates is that software developers can provide you with new features and improved operation by giving you the latest version of a software package.

One last thing to mention before we look at the tools used and that is that you can choose which programs you want to update. Unlike Windows, where an update is a wholesale change that happens all at once, you have the choice to apply or not any part of the update. You have total control of the process.

Moreover, if part of the update breaks something, the part that caused the problem can be removed and functionality restored without affecting the rest of the system except in the specific case of the kernel and even then, restoring your system to functionality can be done without too much difficulty. If you absolutely cannot restore it, you only need to reinstall the broken program and not the entire system.

Linux Update Tools

The tools used for updating have, over the years, evolved to the point that controlling the process is easy. With names like 'apt' (intended for Debian based distribution installs), 'yum' (Yellowdog Update Manager for RPM), 'yumex' (Yellowdog Update Manager EXtended), and 'update' (Which is Redhat's update tool), each provides you with the ability to select the specific program or module to update or install. Of the group, 'yumex' is my choice for RPM based installations because it provides a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the update / installation process and is simple to use.

Although you change Operating Systems from Windows to Linux, updating your system will still be a part of your regular activities. However, it won't be as 'hidden' a process as it is with Windows. You will have far more control over what is updated and when, as well as keeping your system functioning with the latest new software available. You will also get to know your system.

Running Linux can be a positive experience but, just to make sure, it is not Windows, so do not expect to see 'the same stuff' on the screen. But, hey! That's part of the fun of computing.

Have fun!

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