With Linux distributions offering you everything on a plate, there is a temptation to stick with what they offer rather than taking things into your own hands. For example, Debian’s infrequent stable releases and the fact that they don’t seem to change software versions throughout the lifetime of such a release means that things such as browser versions are fixed for the purposes of stability; Lenny has stuck with Firefox 3.06 and called it Iceweasel for some unknown reason. However, I soon got to grabbing a tarball for 3.5 and popped its contents into /opt where the self-contained package worked without a hitch. The same modus operandii was used to get in Eclipse PDT and that applied to Ubuntu too until buttons stopped working, forcing a jumping of ship to Netbeans. Of course, you could make a mess when veering away from what is in a distribution but that should be good enough reason not to get carried away with software additions. With the availability of DEB packages for things like Adobe Reader, RealPlayer, VirtualBox, Google Chrome and Opera, keeping things clean isn’t so hard. Your mileage may vary when it comes to how well things work out for you but I have only ever had the occasional problem anyway.
What reminded me of this was a recent irritation with the OpenOffice package included in Ubuntu 9.10 whereby spell checking wasn’t working. While there were thoughts about is situ fixes like additional dictionary installations, I ended up plumping for what could be called the lazy option: grabbing a tarball full of DEB packages from the OpenOffice website and extracting its contents into /tmp and, once the URE package was in place, installing from there using the command:
dpkg -i o*
To get application shortcuts added to the main menu, it was a matter of diving into the appropriate subfolder and installing from the GNOME desktop extension package. Of course, Ubuntu’s OpenOffice variant was removed as part of all this but, if you wanted to live a little more dangerously, the external installation goes into /opt so there shouldn’t be too much of a conflict anyway. In any case, the DIY route got me the spell checking in OpenOffice Writer that I needed so all was well and another Ubuntu rough edge eradicated from my life, for now anyway.