Linux Package Management: Keeping Up with the Times - page 5
Introduction to Package Types
Yeah, I know, I'm a command-line geek. I do know my way around the GUI too, believe it or not, but there's almost as many cool GUI tools as there are distributions (and they can make your life incredibly easy). So, let's stick to some more fun command-line stuff. Specifically, alien and portage.
Alien (http://kitenet.net/programs/alien) is a package conversion program written in Perl, so you'll have to have Perl installed to use this one. With it, you can take RPM's, Debian packages, SLP's (Stampede Linux packages), and tarballs, and convert the types back and forth as necessary. This is a pretty handy utility if you want to make sure your packages are properly registered in your management scheme of choice. Let me reiterate something listed on the alien web site: "Alien should not be used to replace important system packages." When in doubt, use files built for your specific distribution.
A fun newcomer to the scene is Portage, which is the package management program in Gentoo Linux (www.gentoo.org). I don't single it out amongst RPM and Debian's tool because Portage is far more than a package manager, and doesn't actually require its own file formats. Portage uses a cascading series of configuration files to build (almost) everything from source according to your specifications. Just as in Debian you can type apt-get install kde to upgrade your KDE installation, you can type emerge kde in Gentoo and let Portage do the work: and you get code optimized for your setup as a result.
With the collection of package management tools we have available today in the Linux community, we have the best of all worlds. Through RPM, Deb, SLP, Portage, and I'm sure other variations that I don't know about yet but will soon through reader email, our systems can actually keep track of software dependencies in a way that I haven't really run into in the non-Unix space. But we still have our good old basics as we always will. Sometimes, all you need is a tarball.