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Linux and RPM — A Brief History

Welcome! This is a book about the Red Hat Package Manager or, as it is known to it's friends, RPM. The history of RPM is inextricably linked to the history of Linux, so a bit of Linux history may be in order. Linux is a full-featured implementation of a UNIX-like operating system, and has taken the computing world by storm.

And for good reason — With the addition of Linux, an Intel-based personal computer that had previously been prisoner of the dreaded Windows hourglass is transformed into a fully multitasking, network capable, personal workstation. All for the cost of the time required to download, install, and configure the software.

Of course, if you're not the type to tinker with downloaded software, many companies have created CDROMs containing Linux and associated software. The amount of tinkering required with these distributions has varied widely. The phrase "You get what you pay for" is never more true than in the area of Linux distributions.

One distribution bears the curious name "Red Hat Linux". Produced by a company of the same name, this Linux distribution was different. One of the key decisions a new Linux user needs to make is which of the many different parts of the distribution to install on their system. Most distributions use some sort of menu, making it easy to pick and choose. Red Hat Linux is no different.

But what is different about Red Hat Linux is that the creators of the distribution wanted their customers to have the the ability to make the same choices long after the installation process was over. Some commercial UNIX systems have this capability (called "package management"), and a few Linux distributors were trying to come up with something similar, but none had the extensive scope present in RPM.

Over time, Red Hat Linux has become the most popular distribution available today. For it to edge out the previous leader (known as Slackware) in just two years is amazing. There has to be a reason for this kind of success, and a good part of the reason is RPM. But until now, there has been precious little in terms of RPM documentation. You could say that RPM's ease of use has made detailed instructions practically unnecessary, and you'd be right.

However, there are always people that want to know more about their computers, and given the popularity of Red Hat Linux, this alone would have made a book on RPM worthwhile. But there's more to the story than that.

There is a truism in the world of free software, that goes something like this: If there's a better solution freely available, use it! RPM is no exception to the rule. Put under the terms of the GNU General Public License (Meaning: RPM cannot be made proprietary by anyone, not even Bill Gates), RPM started to attract the attention of others in the Linux, Unix, and free software communities.

At present, RPM is used by several commercial software companies producing Linux applications. They find that RPM makes it easier to get their products into the hands of their customers. They also find that it can even make the process of building their software easier. (Those of you that develop software for fun and profit, stick around — the second half of this book will show you everything you need to know to get your software "RPM-ized")

People have also ported RPM to several commercial UNIX systems, including DEC's Digital Unix, IBM's AIX, and Silicon Graphics' IRIX. Why? The simple answer is that it makes it easier to install, upgrade, and de-install software. If all these people are using RPM, shouldn't you?