First Time Linux

This section deals with upgrading software to versions newer than the ones which came with the distribution.

Update options

Although the rpm system has many advantages of stability and reliability, it does introduce a reliance on the rpm makers to package software for your specific system. If the version you want or need has been packaged, then great, but this isn't always the case. Normally only a single version of an application is available, and that will probably be the most recent stable version at the time your system was built. For example, I'm running Mandriva 2005LE, and so the packages available for installation are often those from 2005. In the meantime new versions of these programs have been produced, but they're not being packaged for 2005LE. Some of them are available for Mandriva 2006, but again not all.

So what do you do when you want the latest features or bug fixes with your Mandriva 2005? Well one option is to try and install the 2006 rpm, if there is one. This may work, but probably won't because of the multiple dependencies. This is especially tricky for applications tightly bound to the KDE, where upgrading one application can require upgrading the whole KDE and that brings you to a complicated and messy experiment.

A second option, if there is no rpm available, is to install from binary, downloaded from the application's website. This is the way that the JDK was originally installed from

The third option is to install from source, which requires downloading the source code from the application's website and compiling it yourself. Of course you need to have a suitable compiler, and also install all the other source components needed for the installation - this can easily result in massive downloads far in excess of the application that you actually want. And then the compilation may or may not go smoothly - it will certainly be a learning experience if you've not done it before!

I tried recently to upgrade some of the packages for Mandriva 2005LE, and here is how it went:

OpenOffice 2.0

Standard with 2005LE was OpenOffice version 1.1, and version 2.0 came out towards the end of the year. This promised many improvements, and I was keen to see what was new. In particular I wanted to be able to open text files in Calc, and also to be able to split text into columns according to delimiters or fixed width formats. Standard stuff which you expect in a spreadsheet program. I could have tried the 2006 rpm, produced as an extra after the release of Mandriva 2006, but I was told that it would be easier to just get the download from instead.

My first attempt to use BitTorrent wasn't too successful, as this download only contains the language pack, which is hardly very useful on its own. My next attempt, downloading direct with Mozilla, went better, choosing the "Linux, x86, without JRE" option and getting a large tar file. The instructions for what to do with this file can be found at 2.0.1 install instructions.

After unpacking with tar and moving the Mandriva menu rpm up into the parent directory, it just took a single command urpmi -ivh * to install all the rpms. Even though it said that 1.1 and 2.0 can coexist happily, I uninstalled the 1.1 version beforehand just to make sure. It all went beautifully smoothly, and everything worked out of the box. Very impressive.

Sadly the features I wanted still aren't there, and I haven't yet noticed any startling improvements that dramatically change things. Most obvious is that the default file format has changed, giving ods and odt files instead of sxc and sxw. One other effect was that OOo 2.0 couldn't find the macros created in 1.1, because they were in a general library instead of in a specific spreadsheet file. Once I'd reinstalled 1.1 and moved the macros into the file, they got painlessly transferred into 2.0.

Overall, a surprisingly easy upgrade and even uninstalling, reinstalling and uninstalling 1.1 didn't cause any problems. Very good job everyone!


There are a couple of annoying bugs with the Kate editor - firstly the search tool completely fails to work when block mode is selected - which can be very confusing. Secondly even when block mode is deactivated, it still fails to find end-of-line characters even though both "line break" and "carriage return" are listed in the search dropdown. I tried to report these to the Kate team, but the bug reporting tool didn't even list my version of KDE (3.3) as an option, so the chances of the bug being dealt with are very low indeed. And upgrading Kate isn't an option without upgrading KDE, and upgrading KDE isn't a realistic option without upgrading the whole system, so that's it. Personally I find it laughable that an OS upgrade is necessary just to get bug fixes in a text editor, but there you go.

Digikam 0.8.1

I find Digikam an excellent tool, with a great interface for uploading photos from the camera and a very powerful tagging system for organising photo collections. When the new version 0.8 came out, it offered several new features, including a search function for more complex queries like "show me all photos of my parents AND at the beach". I did try the 2006 rpm but it flatly didn't work, so I resorted to compiling from source instead.

Taking the source code for 0.8.1 as a tarball from, I dived in to the compilation, but soon found that it relied on other things like libkexif, digikamimageplugins and in particular sqlite3. Undaunted, I got these compiled and installed, and with some path-tweaking got digikam itself compiled. It even got as far as converting the photo database to the new format, but then immediately crashed.

It turned out that I needed to remove the rpm for the old version (which I was keeping as a safety backup) and then compile and install the 0.8.1 fully before it would work. Doing this, I ran through everything again from scratch and it then all worked cleanly.

And the end result of all that - well the interface has changed, but the all-important combination searching just doesn't work at all. I'm still not sure what the problem is, but it can still only show all photos of parents or all photos of the beach, but not photos with both tags. Whatever. And the new version introduced a host of spelling mistakes, but these have apparently since been fixed in the latest builds.


The version of filelight with Mandriva 2005 was a 1.0 beta version, so I investigated whether a final version was available or if new features were available. I wanted extra functions, to use filelight to display the contents of a file rather than the sizes of files in a directory, and I was hoping these had been included in a more recent version. Sadly development of this great app has been on hold since May and emails to the author haven't been answered.

Now, thanks to the fantastic open source model, the features I'm looking for are under development here using the source code from What I have in mind is extending it so that it can display a hierarchical view of website hits on a file tree, instead of file sizes. Compilation was this time very painless and straightforward, so now it's time to get the hands dirty and tweak the code to do what I want it to. Watch this space, the modified code will appear in the downloads section once it's finished.