3. Updating Your Distro
First-time (and even experienced) Linux users have questions. And we have answers. In this third part of our ongoing series of Linux tips, learn how to update your newly installed Linux distro, and also how to install Mozilla's Firebird Web browser.

Most of the material you'll read in Tips for Linux Explorers comes from Bruno of Amsterdam, one of the moderators of the popular All Things Linux forum at Scot's Newsletter Forums.

Bruno is helped by All Things Linux co-moderators Peachy and ThunderRiver, as well as other forum members who have posted in the highly useful Tips for Linux Starters thread (from which Linux Explorers was developed).

While Bruno collected the material that appears in Tips for Linux Starters, many other SFNL Forums members have contributed ideas to make them better, and Bruno revises them.

For the Scot's Newsletter versions of these tips, they've undergone additional revision, and we often add links to outside sources for extra help. Here are links to the previous installments of Tips for Linux Explorers:

  • Check Your Linux 'ISO'
  • Installation Tips

    Now, on to this issue's tips!

    Updating Your Linux Distro
    It's very important to update your Linux installation on a regular basis. Just as under Windows, Linux updates include bug fixes and security patches. Some distros need very few updates, while others have long lists updates requiring large amounts of disk space to keep them running properly and safely.

    Mandrake and Red Hat, for example, are always pressed to use the latest, cutting-edge versions of KDE, Gnome, Mozilla, and so on. There's also healthy competition between the two Linux distributors, which tends to make for frequent new versions, and many large updates of those new versions (both needed more than 300MB worth of updates during the first three months after their last major releases).

    At the other end of the spectrum are Debian and Slackware. Debian has not released a new version in two to three years; the distributor still offers its super-stable "woody" 3.0 (which is also the underpinnings of Knoppix). All the bugs were fixed long ago and the only updates are security related. Slackware does not rush to new versions either. It only includes fully tested, bug-free apps in its releases. Slackware prides itself in on legendary stability.

    The process of updating Linux installations varies by distro, so here are some tips for updating with some of the more popular distributions:

    Mandrake. The updating that goes on as part of the Mandrake install process is minimal. After you complete your Linux installation, you should perform a full update in the Mandrake Control Center. To do that, open Mandrake Control Center > open the Software Management menu > and select Mandrake Update.

    A full description and update-alerts are in this Scot's Newsletter Forums thread.

    Just subscribe to that thread and you'll get automatic email notification from the forums whenever a new Mandrake update comes out.

    Red Hat. All you have to do is type "up2date" in a console or click the red exclamation point next to the clock. Subscribe to this Scot's Newsletter Forums thread and you'll get notification from the forums whenever new Red Hat updates are released. The same thread also tells you about alternative ways to get the Red Hat updates.

    Debian. Simply open a console and type:

    su <enter your root password when prompted>
    apt-get upgrade

    Slackware. This distro is a bit more complicated to update than most. Major security updates are announced on Slackware.com's home page and changes are always made to the "current" branch. You can follow the changes by periodically checking this Slackware.com i386 Current ChangeLog Web page. Download any update packages and enter this into a console to install them:

    su <enter your root password when prompted>

    SuSE. This version of Linux has a built-in online updater called YOU (YaST2 Online Update). Beginning with the 8.2 version, there's an icon in the task tray that checks once a day for updates and turns red if any are available. You can configure it to automatically download and install updates. For dial-up users who might get a friend with broadband to download manually-installed patches, this SuSE Web page provides a list of SuSE 8.2 update RPMs. (Much of the SuSE information was contributed by Jason Wallwork.)

    From now on, no more excuses for not being fully up to date and bug free.

    Installing Mozilla's Firebird Browser for Linux
    We're providing step-by-step instructions for installing Mozilla's Firebird because it installs differently than most other Linux applications.

    Start by downloading the latest nightly build of Firebird for Linux to your /home directory. Use this link to download Firebird. Occasionally the link changes. If so, check this directory on the Mozilla site. You'll find a lot of different versions of Firebird there. If you're not sure which one is the right one, post a note in the All Things Linux forum and get help. You might also try Scot's Newsletter Forums' excellent Firebird, Thunderbird, and Mozilla forum.

    After downloading Firebird, go to your home directory, right-click the package and choose Extract Here. Or you can open a console and type:

    tar -zxvf MozillaFirebird

    Press the Tab key to complete the name of the package and then press Enter. Either way, the result will be a new directory called MozillaFirebird.

    Next, open a console and type:

    su <enter your root password when prompted>
    mv MozillaFirebird /usr/local/bin

    Now log out of root by pressing Ctrl-D. To add Firebird to the shell menu so you can launch it (using distro-independent means), open a console and type:


    That will give you a dialog where you fill in the name of the application and the command to launch it. In this case, that command is:


    (There are, of course, distro-specific ways. Mandrake users, for example, could type "menudrake" instead of kmenuedit.)

    To make a desktop icon for Firebird, right-click an empty space on your desktop, select Create New, then Link to Application from the menu. You'll see a panel with four tabs, on the first tab type: "Firebird." (You can change the default icon for a custom one by clicking the icon-field also on the first tab.) Then on the third tab in the field for entering the command, type the following and click OK:


    Now you can delete the tar.gz file from your /home directory. Happy browsing!