Page Two

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2005-06-27 Print this article Print

Although its possible to install any application that runs on Linux on any Linux distribution, the simplest and most manageable means of installing, updating and removing applications and components on a Linux system is through software packages—collections of binaries and configuration files rolled together with information about dependencies and locations for installing these files.

RPM (Red Hat Package Manager) and Deb, the package systems for Fedora and Debian, respectively, are the two most popular package systems for Linux.

Debians biggest advantage over rival distributions, including Fedora, is the huge number of software packages that ship as part of the distribution. All told, Sarge comprises 15,197 software packages spanning two DVDs.

To compare, Fedora Core 4 comprises 1,853 packages, with 1,052 more available in the Fedora Extras channel that makes its debut in Fedora 4 as a site for packages that fall outside the core.

This isnt to say that Fedora doesnt include a comprehensive set of software; it certainly does, and the Sarge test system we configured as a desktop client had only 869 packages installed.

However, the breadth of available packages on Sarge, which we accessed for download through the two DVD images that wed downloaded on BitTorrent and made available to our network as NFS (Network File System) shares, makes Debian the best distribution weve tested for sampling whats available in the open-source world; weve spent hours trolling the Debian package lists through Synaptic, the distributions included graphical front end to its APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) software installation tool.

Click here to read more about Fedoras strengths and weaknesses. Also new in this version of Debian is Aptitude, which is a command-line-based but nonetheless relatively rich front end to APT. According to project officials, Aptitude does a better job sorting out package dependencies than APT alone.

Fedora Core 4 ships with a command-line software update tool, called yum, thats similar to APT. Fedora still lacks a graphical front end for yum, which isnt really needed for simple installation or removal operations, but which makes it much easier to view the software on your system.

Debian supports direct upgrades from Woody to Sarge—a transition that can be as easy as running a command from the command line. However, some users have reported upgrade troubles. Read the Sarge release notes (at, and you should be fine.

For clean installations, we really appreciated the new and improved installer application that Debian now sports. Although the text-based application isnt as attractive-looking as Fedoras Anaconda installer program, we found Debian 3.1s installer at least as easy to use.

Developers from the Fedora project counsel against similarly upgrading Fedora 3 to 4, but we upgraded a Fedora 3 system we had in the Labs by installing an RPM that tagged our Fedora 3 machine as a Fedora 4 box, then letting yum pull down and install the appropriate packages.

Over the past few Fedora releases, weve been tracking the progress of the distributions implementation of SELinux, which was developed by the National Security Administration and brings fine-grained access controls to Linux. Were impressed with the progress weve seen.

The targeted policy (so-called because rather than police every process on the system, the targeted policy aims at a subset of most potentially vulnerable services) has grown to cover 91 services in Fedora 4—up from 11 in the previous version.

Fedora Core 4 is the first Fedora version to ship with the Java-based Eclipse development platform. The Eclipse version that ships with Fedora is built with the open-source GCJ (GNU Compiler for Java) to run natively on Linux, due to intellectual property concerns that these distributions have with Mono. As with Java, we had to turn to third-party resources to acquire Mono on our test systems—theres a generic Linux installer for Mono available for free download at

Out-of-the-box support for components such as Mono, Java and Flash is one of the advantages that commercial distributions such as SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 enjoy over Debian and Fedora.

Eclipse and GCJ form the core of an all-free Java development stack on Fedora, but accessing Java applets on Web pages still requires downloading and installing a JRE (Java Runtime Environment). The same is true for Sarge.

While Suns JRE is freely available from its Web site, the company places redistribution limitations on the software that prevent all-free distributions such as Debian and Fedora from bundling it. For the same reason, neither distribution ships with support for Flash or MP3 playback, both of which also require separate software downloads.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel