Linux.com: An Introduction to Packages and the RPM SystemJun 10, 2000, 13:43 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Quentin Cregan)
"So, you've just moved to Linux, and now you're wondering how to install software, and what these "packages" are. This article will introduce you to packages -- specifically, packages in the popular RPM format used in distributions including Red Hat, Mandrake, SuSE, and Caldera. Future updates will encompass the DEB format used in Debian distributions, upcoming package formats, and more."
"First off, let's talk about what makes a package. A package is simply an archive of files, usually an application or set of applications for your system, similar to ZIP files in the DOS and Windows environment. However, packages are designed to work with a certain packaging system. So, you could think of them as slightly more intelligent ZIP files. For example, they know what other programs are required before they can be installed, and they make sure these "dependencies" are met before they will let you install them. They also have the good grace not to let you install them if that would break another piece of software that's already installed. So they're polite, too."
"Generally speaking, packages contain pre-compiled, or "binary" software -- in other words, software that is ready to run on your system. Someone on a computer somewhere has already spent the time turning it from source code into an executable file. This is the joy of packages! Rather than taking lots of time to download and compile (that is, convert the source code you just downloaded into a binary file your system can run directly) the latest and greatest version of XFree86 4.0 or some other program, you can use a copy that has already been prepared by someone else. This saves time in compilation, saves time downloading (as binaries are generally far smaller than the source code) and lessens administrative load."