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Of course you can get a newer kernel through apt. If you use Synaptic, it's even easier. Use Synaptic's search function for kernel-image and pick one from the returned list. Otherwise, through apt-get directly, use
The first command will update your package list, the second one will return a list of available kernel images and the third one will install your selection (where X,Y and extraversion it's up to you to pick).
Note though, that depending on what repository branch is your sources.list and/or apt.conf pointing to, you might not get the latest kernels. For example, Sarge's newest kernel is 2.6.8 (IIRC), while the unstable branch will always have newer kernels.
On the other hand, compiling the kernel yourself gives you the opportunity of streamlining your kernel, that is a smaller and faster one.
Having to compile anything is a pain, IMO. Luckily, all my hardware is supported by the default Debian kernel images and I can even choose a kernel binary package that has been optimized for my processor (i686). That kernel-images come with lots of modules doesn't make them any slower than self-compiled kernels because only the needed modules are actually loaded. People who compile their own kernels with just the necessary drivers/modules will need to recompile kernel every time they add new hardware. I've got nothing against people compiling stuff from source but, personally, I feel that masochism just isn't my thing.
That kernel-images come with lots of modules doesn't make them any slower than self-compiled kernels because only the needed modules are actually loaded. People who compile their own kernels with just the necessary drivers/modules will need to recompile kernel every time they add new hardware.
They don't make the kernel any slower (though having them compiled in would be slightly faster than using modules in the first place) but they do take up considerable amount of space.
Why install 200 modules when you are only going to be using 2?
And you don't have to recompile the kernel when you add new hardware. All you have to do is compile the module and put it in the module directory, you wouldn't need to touch the kernel at all. Unless you didn't compile in support for modules, of course.
My kernel-image takes about 45M disk space -- consider how much extra disk space is taken by the kernel source you keep around to build new modules when needed?
I'd still recommend that a newbie should try first one of the ready-built kernel-images -- unless the kernel-image doesn't support some specific piece of hardware you've got. Compiling your own kernel or additional modules can be a useful skill but a modern GNU/Linux distro should be usable even without such specialized skills, IMO.
I think I downloaded the file but I can't find it on my system.
There are several ways to search files on a GNU/Linux system. I use the "locate" utility for this purpose. "su" to root and run "updatedb" to update the locate database. Then hit Ctrl-d to become normal user again. Now you can search for any file name pattern with "locate" -- for instance, you can search for the file "patch-126.96.36.199.bz2" with the "locate patch-188.8.131.52.bz2" command (although "locate patch-2.6" will probably show the same result). Notice that the "locate" command only searches from the locate database, so you need to update the database (with "updatedb" run as root) every now and then if you want to include newly installed files to your search.
I am logged in as root.
Save yourself from unnecessary troubles and always log in as normal user. Then you can use the "su" command to become root temporarily for doing administrative tasks. During X session you can use the "gksu" utility (aptitude install gksu) to launch GUI apps with root privileges (for example, "gksu synaptic").
Distribution: Debian Wheezy / BackTrack 5/ Linux Mint 17
I highly recommend going through macondo's post-install configuration tutorial at the top of this forum. It will explain how to add and set up a lot of extras you might want. I used it for adding firefox, thunderbird, cups (although I still had to add a few libraries and a new HP driver), Java and VIM.
As for me, I watched a friend of mine recompiled Debain a few weeks ago, and following that, there was no noticable speed difference. I installed a ready-built kernel image for my P5-500 system, and it installed so easy. I did the following:
#apt-cache search kernel-image
I found the image for my Intel P3-500, then typed:
#apt-get install kernel-image-2.6.8
Afterwards I reboot, selected the new kernel, tested X, and then ran debfoster. I selected no when asked if I wanted to keep the old kernel image, and grub was automatically updated. It was extremely easy. Did it make any speed difference? I'm not sure. Either it did speed up a little, or I am imagining that it did. Either way, I am running a ready-built package for my processor. Try it!
how hard is it to manually install KDE 3.3.2? Is it as simple as just "apt-get install kde"?
Try this instead: "apt-get install x-window-system kde" (or "apt-get install x-window-system-core kde-core" if you want just the fully working base installation of X Window System and kde without any extras). If you want also kde's GUI login screen, you need to add kdm to the apt-get command.