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Upgrading an Application Using RPM is a Hit and Miss Process

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last night I decided that I was going to bite the bullet and upgrade my copy of Netscape Communicator to a version that supports strong encryption. The machine I wanted to do this to is my Dell Inspiron 7500 that runs VA Linux 6.2.3, a distribution derived from RedHat 6.2."

"Because the version of Linux I am running is derived from RedHat, you would think that it would be easy to upgrade Netscape Communicator using RPM, the RedHat Package Manager. Not so. I ran into some truly nebulous issues and the solution to these was not apparent from looking at my favorite Linux books and Web Sites where quick solutions to these problems are normally found."

Dave Aiello continued:

In case you've never done a Netscape Communicator upgrade on Linux, it's actually divided among two different RPMs:

  • netscape-common-4.76-0.62
  • netscape-communicator-4.76-0.62

The information about the netscape-common package says, "This package contains the files that are shared between the Netscape Navigator Web Browser and the Netscape Communicator suite of tools.... Install the netscape-common package if you're installing either the netscape-navigator or the netscape-communicator program.

Seemed straight forward enough. However, the gnorpm application kept complaining that this package was in conflict with the previous version of Netscape Communicator (I think it was 4.73) and the conflict covered dozens of files.

So, I began looking at my books for help understanding the messages that I was seeing. None of the books I had under my desk got far enough into practical use of RPM to tell me how to resolve the conflicts in question. Then I started searching the Internet using Google with a query of upgrade Netscape Communicator 4.73 Linux. It returned a useful page from UserFriendly.net, but all that page said about the upgrade problem was "don't worry about fixing the 4.73 upgrade problem; it's unfixable", attributed to Bill Nottingham at RedHat.

I finally decided, as I do from time to time with RPM, that I should ignore the warnings and install the updated software anyway. So far, there have been no problems.

My reaction to this process is that there has to be a better way. How can the upgrade process for an application like Netscape Communicator be so uncertain? I'm sure RPM is a big improvement over a unique shell script installer for each application, but, RPM has to do a better job of telling the user what the implications of proceeding are. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine how anyone less technical than me (and that takes in a fairly large chunk of the computer-using community) will feel comfortable using Linux as their primary operating system.

As always, I welcome advice from people who know more about Linux than I do.

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