Originally Published: Wednesday, 13 October 1999 Author: Bradley McCrorey
Published to: corp_features/General Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

More Software Download Sites

Bradley McCrorey follows up Ed Matthews' Software Download Sites" piece with a look at his two favourite sources of Linux software. He examines TUCOWS Linuxberg and freshmeat.

One of the major attractions for originally reconfiguring my machine at home to run Linux as well as windows was the promise of being able to load new programs guilt-free with out having to pay a dime. So, once I got my machine up and running I set out on my quest and was immediately rewarded with a wealth of sites offering everything I could possibly want to download and more. However, most of my attention has tended towards only a few sites. Last week when I pointed my browser at corp.linux.com and first read Ed Matthew's opening words, I excitedly prepared myself for an in-depth look at my two favorite sites for Linux software. I was soon dissapointed - at first anyway - to learn that there were other quality sources of software to run on my favorite platform. Once the realization that perhaps I hadn't properly looked around for different sources for productive, well-written software sunk in, I sat down and wrote Ed a letter both to thank him for showing me the light and to give him my opinion of what I still consider to be the best sources around for software for Linux. Ed hadn't changed my opinion, he'd simply shown me that there are always other avenues to look down when you're in need of something to make Linux work for you.

That in mind, I present my summary of the places I looked to when I first got my Linux box up and running and decided it had to do more than look pretty and not be Microsoft. I'll contrast the sites and inevitably give my opinion of which is the more useful site. I hope, though, that you'll not believe everything you read and you'll rush off to your browser to examine both sites for yourself.

Tucows Linuxberg

Having just come over from a strict Novell-Win environment I naturally looked to my tried and true source for software that had always come through for me for years: The Ultimate Collection of Winsock Software (TUCOWS). I knew from a few other Linux gurus that I had encountered in the past that Tucows had set up their own repository of Linux software looking to extend the supremacy they held with their windows site, to a site dedicated to Linux. At first Linuxberg (located at http://www.linuxberg.com) seemed to have everything I needed. I could download new programs, there were links to the homepages for nearly everything listed and it was - most importantly - searchable. I still think these things are the main strengths of the site. The first time I checked the site out I discovered that there was a mirror local to me, just as with Tucows. Being an Australian ISP user this is very important to me because we get charged extra if we go over our monthly time limit. The software is well categorized; It has the mandatory sections for Console and X11 apps as well as specialized sections for the two predominant GUI environments for Linux - GNOME and KDE.

One very unique feature - from my experience - that Linuxberg offers is dedicated strictly to themes for X-Windows. Those of you who still run the GPF'ing giant on any of your computers will recognize what a theme is: A nice way to personalize your desktop according to your own tastes and interests. While themes sound a bit flighty, they can actually be a lot of fun. They are arranged on the site according to whatever window manager you're running. (Those of you running the default GNOME install for RH6 are probably running Enlightenment whether you know it or not). There is even a convenient help page for the uninitiated so that you can "Install the themes you download from Linuxberg in just minutes!".

Linuxberg is, obviously, geared toward a home user rather than an IT professional or your standard run-of-the-mill Linux "geek". The interface is very graphically driven - much like Tucows - and with all the various renderings of Tux - the Linux penguin - is a lot of fun to look at, while also being very easy to navigate. The downfall, as I soon found out, is that the site isn't really driven by "the community" but rather by the maintainers of the site. What this means is that it isn't always as up to date as I'd like it to be. On a few occasions, after downloading from the site, I soon dis covered - whether from the homepage link for the program or from other sources - that there was in fact a newer version of the program to be found elsewhere.

This, naturally, disturbed me, as it seemed like a good idea to be running the most stable release of whatever programs I had downloaded. Because open source programming isn't driven by the almighty dollar, authors of Linux programs usually only release a new version when it is absolutely needed to address a particular problem found in the previous release. With all of this in mind I approaced my l ocal linux guru - a UNIX contractor in the IT department I work for. He had the perfect solution for my problem: freshmeat.

freshmeat

Freshmeat (located at http://www.freshmeat.net) is the ideal solution for anyone looking, not only for productive software solutions for Linux, but also for those in search of the most recent and stable versions.

Freshmeat serves up, on a daily basis, the latest-and-greatest Linux software to be found on the web. The scheme for keeping the site up-to-date is a brilliantly simple one: Rather than trying to keep up with every bit of Linux software released by every author in the world, the maintainers of the site let the developers do all the work. Linux developers, after attaining their freshmeat login, are able to post updates or new programs themselves. This keeps the weight of keeping track of new developments in the Linux community off of the shoulders of the site maintainers, while at the same time giving the viewer (you and I) the best information possible about what's going on in the community. Freshmeat presents not only software, but articles - once again written by submitters - that are pertinent to current goings-on. Because of the daily updates, Freshmeat is an ideal place to keep up with new versions of the all-important Linux kernel as well as crucial security patches.

The links on the sidebar to various Linux-related sites - including our own Linux.com - are a fantastic way to keep up with the latest gossip in the community. The programs are listed in a very simple, easy to read format with very little graphical content. This presents a very fast-loading, no-fuss interface which seems ideally suited to an IT professional or anyone at all who comes for the good-stuff. The site is not full of banners or cute graphics (okay, so there is ONE banner at the top of every page, but it's all useful Linux information). Every program listed has a brief description, a release date, an indication of urgency (especially useful for security patches), a category listing - which makes it easy to find other programs that perform the same or similar function - and links to a download page. The homepage for the program, the program's "changelog" (a listing of new features and fixes), the program's listing in freshmeat's own "appindex' and - finally, my favorite part - a link to a list of comments submitted by viewers of the site with anything to say about the program are also represented by convenient links. I have found the last part (comments) to be one of the more useful features of the site. Often times this section becomes something similar to a "bulletin board" style discussion between users - and, often, the developer(s) - of the program regarding their thoughts on the program and any problems they've had or just success reports. I love this feature. It's always nice to hear honest feedback from other users about a piece of software, rather than a possibly out of context blurb written by someone you can't communicate with.

The really great part about all of this is that this is all only the front page. The other links on the page are packed with more information than I could possibly do justice to here, but, of course, I have to try. The FAQ page is a particularly useful page. Besides answering all the questions I had about the site it brought up a few things I had never even thought of, but are really great ideas. For example there is a link to add a daily dose of freshmeat to your "my.netscape.com" page (another great service worth checking out if you haven't already). I tried this and, in a minute or two, my personal netscape page had not only a link to freshmeat, but a short list of the days apps along with a search form for the site. Other options include adding your name to their mailing list (something anyone could accomplish in their sleep, you simply send them a blank email) and a link to hourly updated html files that you can incorporate into your own site.

The lounge section of the site is mandatory for anyone looking to submit his or her own software or comments on the existing programs on the site. Once again, this was practically a no-brainer, and in no time I had my own login. Another nice feature offered as part of the lounge section was the ability to check up on submissions to the site since the last time you visited the lounge. This is particularly useful to those of us who are kept busy by our daily schedule as IT professionals and don't always make time in our day to view the site.

The remaining sections of the site, search, appindex, and about, are fairly self-explanatory. Search refers to the all-important site search engine, appindex is simply a browsable list of all the programs submitted to date conveniently grouped by category (eg. Console and X11), and about is a short history lesson on the site itself, which is definitely worth having a look at. freshmeat is truly a site that is best appreciated first hand, as it simply offers everything you could ever want from a software site and more.

In short, for a new user, Linuxberg, with it's strong visual appeal and well-organized setup, is a fine place to get started but, for the IT professional or anyone looking to make sure they stay up-to-date on the software they run, freshmeat is clearly my first choice.

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