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Red Hat 8 - Invigorate your desktop

Tips for enhancing your Red Hat experience

by Doran Barton

(Written in February 2003 for the Iodynamics website.

Are you ready for Linux on your desktop? Linux is a great server operating system with proven reliability. However, while some geeks and hackers have put it to use as a desktop OS, Linux has not been a practical choice of the mainstream user.

There are several reasons for this lack of adoption on the desktop. Two of the most common reasons have been lack of applications and difficulty of installation. We have seen many new applications over the past few years, and recently we have seen significant improvements in the installation process. The purpose of this article is to outline the Linux installation process and some of the improvements that make it more practical as a desktop OS. While Linux isn't ready for the grandmothers of the world yet, it has made tremendous progress.

Red Hat's latest Linux distribution is one example of this progress. The distribution comes with hundreds of great open-source applications, but it takes some 'tweaking' to configure Red Hat as a complete desktop OS. While many applications are included, some, for one reason or another, are not. And of those that are included, some need additional configuration to work properly.

Once you understand the installation procedures, you can take advantage of the many applications available to maximize your desktop Linux experience. After reviewing the installation procedures, we discuss some of the more common applications that people add to their desktop.

Note: Installation of new programs is an example of a system administration task. You generally need to be logged in as the “root” user to perform such tasks. You may log into a Linux system using the root username and password or you can use your normal login and obtain root privileges by opening a terminal window and typing su - with the root password.

Learn the art of rpm

Red Hat Linux (and many other Linux distributions) packages programs into RPM files (RPM Package Manager). The Red Hat Linux distribution is composed of many RPM files, designated with a .rpm extension. The key to extending and enhancing an installation of Red Hat Linux is using the rpm program to install, upgrade, and remove packages on a system.

For example, if you want to install a program called foobar that did not come with Red Hat, you could go to the foobar website and download a foobar RPM file (using a web browser like Mozilla or a command-line URL fetcher like wget, for example). Once an RPM is downloaded, install it with the following command (entered by the root user from a terminal window):

rpm -ivh foobar-1.2.3.i386.rpm

The -ivh after rpm are command parameters (sometimes called “switches”) which instruct rpm to do specific things or to behave in specific ways. You can include these parameters together, as shown, or separately: -i -v -h. Below are explanations of these options:

  • The -i option to rpm tells it to install the listed RPM file(s).
  • The -v option turns on verbosity so rpm will be more informative about what it's doing.
  • The -h option provides a handy progress bar of pound (#) symbols for each RPM installed.

You may also install RPMs that are on the Red Hat installation CD-ROMs the same way:

  1. Mount the CD-ROM (mount /dev/cdrom).
  2. Go to the /mnt/cdrom/RedHat/RPMS directory where all the .rpm files are stored (cd /mnt/cdrom/RedHat/RPMS)
  3. Issue an rpm command referencing the RPM file you wish to install.

(Note: Red Hat includes a graphical application for distribution package management called redhat-config-packages. You may use this program to install (from CD-ROM) and remove packages which come with Red Hat Linux.)

The RPM filenames themselves contain some information about the package. Our example above, foobar-1.2.3.i386.rpm tells us the RPM contains files for a package called foobar version 1.2.3 and the RPM is to be installed on the i386 platform (Intel 80386 processors and better, which includes 486, Pentium, Athlon, etc.).

You may use the -U option in place of the -i option if you are upgrading to a newer version of an RPM. Note: The switches are case sensitive.

rpm -Uvh foobar-1.3.0.i386.rpm

One very convenient feature of rpm is that you can install RPM files over the Internet by specifying the URL of the RPM file in the command line.

rpm -ivh ftp://ftp.foobar.biz/foobar-1.2.3.i386.rpm

For a full description of rpm options, review rpm's manual page with command below.

man rpm

You may also read more about the RPM package format and rpm applications at <http://www.rpm.org/ >

Install apt4rpm

When using Linux, you will find that many applications require other programs, libraries, and components be installed. For example, the kamera application — a digital camera tool — depends on code libraries provided by the gphoto2 package. RPM files contain this dependency information. For example, if you try to install the kamera program, without having gphoto2 installed, rpm tells you that you need the gphoto2 package installed to proceed.

While it's good that RPM prevents you from installing packages when they won't work without other dependencies, wouldn't it be better if the requisite packages were simply installed automatically? Who wants to spend most of his or her time crawling the Web looking for required dependencies? There is a solution: A package that began its life with another Linux distribution called Debian.

Debian uses DEB files instead instead of RPMs, and Debian users generally use an installation application called apt. One advantages of apt's design is it usually knows where to find required dependency packages and it resolves these deficiencies automatically.

The apt applications were exclusive to Debian users until recently. Now there's apt4rpm that allows Red Hat users to use the apt programs. There is no easier way to keep your system up to date than with apt. The apt4rpm programs use the rpm program to install, upgrade, and otherwise manage packages.

To get the apt programs working on your Red Hat system, first download the apt client RPM. The latest version can be downloaded from the the apt4rpm website: <http://apt4rpm.sourceforge.net/>. Make sure you download the client RPM and not the server RPM which is used for building an apt4rpm repository.

Once you have the apt RPM, install it.

rpm -ivh apt-2.4.1.i386.rpm

The apt programs synchronize with apt databases on the Web. You specify the sites you want to synchronize in a file named sources.list, found in /etc/apt. The apt4rpm website lists apt4rpm mirror sites that host apt repositories. Select a mirror site that hosts the apt repositories you're interested in and add its sources.list information to your sources.list file. To optimize download speeds, it is usually best to select a site that is as geographically close to you as possible.

Entries in the sources.list file look like this:

rpm http://apt.freshrpms.net redhat/8.0/en/i386 os updates freshrpms

Once you have at least one source listed in your sources.list file, tell apt to update its local database cache by issuing the following command:

apt-get update

This will show diagnostic messages as each host in your sources.list file is contacted. After the update operation is finished, you're ready to use apt to install or upgrade packages on your system.

To upgrade all packages on your system with newer packages available from a repository, issue the following command:

apt-get upgrade

If you know the name of a package you want to install, install it by issuing the command apt-get install followed by the name of the package you want to install. For example, to install a package called foobar, enter:

apt-get install foobar

It's worth mentioning here that apt4rpm is not a replacement or substitute for rpm. In fact, it uses rpm to install new programs and take inventory of currently installed programs. The apt4rpm suite only makes it easier to download and install new and updated programs (and their dependencies) retrieved from online apt4rpm repositories.

Not ironically, this takes us to our next tip.

Freshrpms.net

If there is one site you can go to and find great add-on packages for Red Hat, it's <http://freshrpms.net/>. With over 100 RPMs you can install to add games, media players, DVD playback capability, and more to your Red Hat Linux system, FreshRPMs is a must-visit for serious desktop Linux users running Red Hat.

FreshRPMs also hosts apt4rpm repositories for their packages. This makes it easy to install FreshRPMs packages once you have your apt sources.list file set up. See <http://freshrpms.net/apt/> for more information on using apt4rpm with FreshRPMs.

Now that you know about the apt4rpm and rpm installation tools, you are ready to look at some of the common applications people add to their systems.

MP3 playback

Because of controversial patent issues surrounding the MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3) audio codec, Red Hat chose to distribute Red Hat Linux 8.0 without any MP3 playback or encoding capabilities. Red Hat encourages users to adopt the open-source Ogg Vorbis codec instead of MP3. While Ogg Vorbis is a superior codec both in terms of quality and compression ratios, its adoption is not as widespread as MP3. A majority of computer users still want to play MP3 files they already have and encode their audio CDs to MP3 files.

To support your MP3 needs, you can easily add MP3 playback and encoding capability to a Red Hat Linux system by installing third-party RPMs.

mpg321

mpg321 is a command-line MP3 player and is a clone of the non-free mpg123. You can find RPMs to install at freshrpms.net or at mpg321's website: <http://mpg321.sourceforge.net/>.

apt-get install mpg321

xmms-mp3

XMMS is a graphical media player for Linux that is modeled after the popular Winamp program for Windows. Red Hat Linux ships with the XMMS package, but it lacks MP3 playback capability. However, because of XMMS's modular design, MP3 playback may be enabled with the installation of a RPM module.

The xmms-mp3 or xmms-mpg321 RPMs may be found at <http://www.gurulabs.com/downloads.html>, <http://freshrpms.net/,> or XMMS's website: <http://www.xmms.org/>.

apt-get install xmms-mp3

lame

To encode MP3 files from WAV files, you'll need lame. The lame program is available from <http://freshrpms.net/> or at the lame website: <http://lame.sourceforge.net/>

apt-get install lame

Adobe Acrobat Reader & Mozilla plugin

Red Hat Linux includes the GhostView-based xpdf reader for viewing Portable Document Format (PDF) files. This is an adequate tool for viewing PDF files on the Web. However, if you desire the features of Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can install Adobe Acrobat Reader for Linux.

To install Acrobat Reader and the Acrobat plugin for Mozilla, go to <http://www.gurulabs.com/download.html>, download the respective RPMs, and install them (which should be obvious how to do by now).

Once installed, you may run the Acrobat Reader with the command acroread.

Realplayer

Real Networks' RealPlayer is a popular streaming audio and video client. Unlike other multimedia streaming clients such as Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Apple's QuickTime, Real has provided RealPlayer for the Linux platform for years.

To download the RealPlayer RPM, go to <http://www.real.com/> and follow the link titled “RealOne Player for Unix/Linux” and submit the short questionnaire form.

Alternatively, you can get the RealPlayer RPM from <http://freshrpms.net/>. Go to <http://ftp.freshrpms.net/pub/freshrpms/misc/real-player/ >.

Once installed, you may run RealPlayer with the command realplay.

Enhanced Audio/Video playback

Red Hat Linux comes with a few applications for working with video files including noatun and xawtv. These will play MPEG files and older AVI formats, but generally lack the ability to do anything more sophisticated like play DVDs, VCDs, or Windows Media files.

You may install the following packages to convert your Linux desktop into a multimedia entertainment center.

xine

The xine program is a comprehensive, user-friendly media player which features modular support for common media formats, DVDs, and video-CDs. The xine homepage is at <http://xine.sourceforge.net/>, but the best place to get xine RPMs for Red Hat Linux is from freshrpms.net.

apt-get install xine

mplayer

The mplayer program is also a comprehensive media player which supports many file formats, DVDs, and video-CDs. It is geared less for user-friendliness and more for speed and robustness. The mplayer homepage is at <http://www.mplayerhq.hu/>. Like xine, the best place to get mplayer RPMs for Red Hat is from freshrpms.net.

apt-get install mplayer

Other packages

To maximize file-format compatibility and to play DVDs with xine or mplayer, there are several packages you should install which are available from freshrpms.net.

The avifile package provides support for several modern AVI file formats.

apt-get install avifile

After you have installed the avifile RPM, you'll want to head over to the avifile website <http://avifile.sourceforge.net/> and download the latest binaries file. The binaries contains Windows DLLs for several codecs and is needed in order to play media files which use those codecs.

Unpack the binaries file (as root) in the /usr/lib directory. It will create a /usr/lib/win32 directory which will contain all the codec files.

cd /usr/lib
tar -xvzf /tmp/binaries-011002.tgz

The libdvdcss, libdvdnav, and libdvdread packages provide support for decrypting, navigating, and reading DVD data.

apt-get install libdvdcss libdvdnac libdvdread

The divx4linux package provides support for the DiVX media format.

apt-get install divx4linux

Conclusions

By now, you should be experts at installing RPMs. Take what you have learned and search for your own extras to make your Linux desktop truly your own.

Other resources

There are several good online resources related to this topic.

<http://www.redhat.com/docs/> - Red Hat Documentation
Straight from the source, this page on Red Hat's site has official manuals, documentation, whitepapers, and much (much) more. Most documents are available in html, html tarball, and Adobe Acrobat (pdf) formats. If you're just getting started, check out The Official Red Hat Linux Getting Started Guide and then branch out from there.

<http://www.tldp.org/> - The Linux Documentation Project
TLDP is the original home to the famous and informative Linux HOWTOs, which are instructional documents describing how to pull off a dizzying array of Linux tasks, functions, and tricks. HOWTOs are submitted to TLDP by other users, so the usefulness, style, grammar, and level of technicality varies. Be prepared to browse; the list of HOWTOs is so long that there is a HOWTO on how to get HOWTOs!

<http://www.desktoplinux.com/>
In addition to a more-focused list of HOWTOs for beginners, DesktopLinux has an article block-stacker where you can read up on the latest Linux news. You'll also find essays and forums here.

<http://www.justlinux.com/nhf/> - JustLinux Newbie Help Files (nhf) library
JustLinux, the Linux portal formerly known as LinuxNewbie.com, is where to get Newbie Help Files, or nhfs. Similar to HOWTOs, nhfs are instructional documents on a variety of Linux topics, but they have the Linux newbie in mind. Most nhfs assume that the reader knows next to nothing about Linux, so they're a great way to learn the basics.

About the author

Doran Barton is president and chief super hero of Iodynamics. He is an avid supporter of Linux and other open-source/Free software projects. He holds a BS in computer science and has been using Linux and Unix for more than a decade. He can be contacted via e-mail at <fozz@iodynamics.com>