Install programs not in Mandriva repositories

Q I finally took the plunge and installed Mandriva 2008 Powerpack on my Toshiba Laptop (Satellite M50 PSM53A). Everything works great that I have noticed so far, except that I think I may have a software modem, I'll have to work around this, I guess. I thought I'd install GCstar and Genius. After several frustrating hours in the Software Management utility, the instruction manuals and the Mandriva website, I came to the conclusion that the Mandriva people only want you to use the programs that they make available. The same seems to be true for the other distros. Please tell me I'm wrong! If not, why is this so? How can I tell whether certain software is suitable for my particular distro. It also seems to matter whether I have Gnome or KDE desktops, how do I tell which desktop the software is for? If I were to install the Gnome desktop on Mandriva, would I be able to swap between Gnome and KDE like you can with Fedora?

A The various distros work hard to make installing and using software as straightforward as possible. To this end, they provide huge repositories that contain almost everything you could need. These packages are tested to make sure they are compatible with that distro and each other. As a result, installing from the distro's package manager is usually very simple, with all the details of dependency resolution, package downloading and software configuration hidden from sight. So it is true that the distro makers would prefer you to stick with their repositories, but this does not make installing software from elsewhere impossible. Some package managers are able to install from individual package files, although this often requires a trip to the command line. With Mandriva, you use the urpmi command from a root terminal

urpmi some-package.rpm

This only works with packages in the correct format for the distro: RPMs for Mandriva, Fedora and SUSE; Debs for Debian and the Ubuntus. It does have the advantage that the installed packages are included in the distro's database, so it can track what you have installed. However, the two you mention are only available on the DVD as source code and need to be compiled before you can install them. In the case of GCstar, there is a files called INSTALL.txt on the DVD, which explains how to install it. For Genius, and the majority of programs, there is an INSTALL file in the tarball that explains how to install it. The general procedure is

tar xf /media/dvd/Hot_Picks/Genius/genius-1.0.2.tar.gz
cd genius-1.0.2
less INSTALL
./configure
make
su -c "make install"

These commands unpack the archive, switch to the directory holding the contents of the archive, display the INSTALL file, configure the build process for your system, compile the programs and install them respectively. Installing the compiled software requires administrator privileges, hence the use of su. Ubuntu users should replace the last line with

sudo make install

You may need to install GCC, the compiler software, before you can do this. The ./configure command will check if this, and any other required software, is available and warn you if not. Source code distribution is the most distribution independent method, so it should work on any distro and with any hardware (but it does require a bit of extra effort). As far as running KDE and Gnome software is concerned, as long as you have the correct libraries installed, and most distros cover this, you can run KDE software on a Gnome desktop and vice versa. You can install Gnome on Mandriva and choose between it and KDE when you log in, but you don't need to switch desktops to run software for the other one. The only real problem with running KDE applications on Gnome is that they look out of place. The same is true with Gnome programs on KDE, but there is a KDE module to apply the current KDE theme to Gnome/GTK programs too. The GTK-Qt Theme Engine is available from http://gtk-qt.ecs.soton.ac.uk.

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