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Beginner's Guide to Debian Etch

Wednesday 11th April 2007

Categories: Guides, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

What Packages?

In Debian, there are thousands of package, from games to office suites. The list that follows includes some that I have used - of course, I highly recommend you try different packages to see which you like. One of the key points of Debian is freedom, so you have a huge range of packages to try - you can search using apt-cache search wordstosearchfor, or on the Debian website. You can read a quick manual on each package by typing man packagename. Good luck, and have fun!

Note that there are alternatives to Apt for package management within Debian. Synaptic provides a nice GUI frontend to Apt, and lets you do virtually anything Apt lets you do.

Also, if you wanted to install more of those installation options, such as Desktop environment or Web server, then type tasksel as root in a terminal, and from here you can pick and choose.

If you download individual packages, then you must always make sure dependencies are satisfied before trying to install the package i.e. used apt, or another suitable method, to make sure that the required packages are installed.

If you have downloaded a Debian package, rather than letting apt do the hard work, then they need to be installed using dpkg. Debian compatible packages end in .deb. To install one of the packages, type, as root, dpkg -i path/to/package.deb. Before you do this, however, you should make sure that you have satisfied any dependencies listed. If you try installing the package before satisfying the dependencies, then dpkg will complain at you. After that, you should run apt-get -f install in order to fix the dependencies.

You may also come across packages that end with .rpm. These are packages that are not designed for use with Debian. If possible, it is best to find either a Debian repository with these packages in, or to find a package designed for Debian. Failing this, you can try and convert the package to a Debian format by installing the alien package, and then typing: alien path/to/package.rpm. If successful, you can then install the package the usual way i.e. by typing dpkg -i path/to/convertedpackage.deb. Since these packages weren't designed for Debian originally, this process is not always perfect, so use alien at you own risk - you have been warned!

Finally, you may come across packages that are not designed for any particular distribution. If the file ends in .bin, then you can install it using the command path/to/package.bin. You can install these files without being root, but you will be the only user able to use the program. Generally, it is preferred to run the installation as root, and, when asked, to put any files somewhere in /usr/local/. For instance, you can download a .bin for SeaMonkey. When it asks for an installation directory, /usr/local/SeaMonkey might be a good idea.

Alternatively, another brand of distribution-independent packaging is programs that work without any installation - you just download a tarball (similar to a Zip file, ends in .tar. Might end in .tar.gz or similar if it has been compressed) and extract the contents to an appropriate directory. Again, if you want the contents to be available to all, a directory within /usr/local is the place to put it.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can compile a program yourself. Instructions can vary between packages, so be sure to read any instructions provided.


In order to be able to read the full range of media files out there requires some codecs that are not free, and are also not included in the official Debian repositories. Firstly, you'll need to add this line to /etc/sources.list:

deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org/ etch main

Feel free to replace etch with whatever is necessary, as explained previously. Next, you'll want two packages: w32codecs and libavformatcvs51. After installing these with your package manager of choice, you should be able to read almost any multimedia file through players such as totem-xine or mplayer.