Updated: February 12, 2011
Ubuntu is a very self-sufficient distribution. What this means is that pretty much anything you need can be found in the official repositories. And if something is missing, you can enable third-party repositories or unofficial PPA. In theory, you should have no problems.
But problems do sometimes crop, especially when you are trying to do things the Gods of the Internets did not intend you to. For example, run 32-bit legacy applications or proprietary software on your 64-bit installation. While this should never be an issue, in reality, you may sometimes stumble across seemingly insurmountable issues with missing libraries. Geeks will find their way around easily, but what about people who are not so well versed in solving these kinds of problems on their own?
To this end, I'd like to introduce getlibs and apt-fast.
Warning: These are not official Ubuntu programs, nor should you treat them that way. These programs are not supported by Canonical. By using them, you may render your machine inoperable.
Now that you have been warned and commented, let's check them.
getlibs is a program designed to automatically solve dependencies for 32-bit programs on 64-bit installations of Ubuntu. Seemingly, the system package manager, apt-get, should be able to do this on its own. However, as we've seen in the VMware Server tutorial, things can get a little messy. And you may not even know that a program is failing because of missing 32-bit libraries. You will see the error manifest in something unrelated.
In this case, knowledgeable users will google the error and sudo apt-get install missing stuff within moments. But people who have no idea what might have gone wrong will flounder helplessly. getlibs is meant to help them overcome this issue.
Let's see the program in action. It's smart enough to realize it's been invoked against startup scripts and warn about it. My example is fairly innocent, because nothing is missing, but you can find a plenty more, including problems users encountered, in the original forum thread above.
But if you're not sure what the binary is, you can always use command substitution. For instance, rather than writing getlibs /usr/bin/whatever, you can try:
getlibs `which whatever`
Indeed, if you're not looking forward to debugging problems on your 64-bit machines, you can try installing ia32-libs from the very beginning, saving yourselves some of the problems down the road. You can also always fire up Synaptic and manually search for any missing package or library, as shown in the application error messages.
apt-fast is a command-line utility that is designed to speed the apt-get updates by trying multiple connections to repository sources at once. The program has the full apt-get syntax, so it lets you perform system updates in the same manner you are normally used to, plus some speed. apt-fast requires the Axel download accelerator, which you can install from the repositories.
It is important to note that apt-fast won't make your Internet any faster, just make the update manager work more efficiently. If you're already enjoying 100% throughput with your available bandwidth, with minimal latency and downloads against local servers located at the university just across the street, this program may not be a miracle for you. But some people have reported an increase in orders of 2-25x, so it's worth checking out.
More reading on apt-fast on Web Upd8.
There's also a very useful thread on Ubuntu forums.
And that's enough for today.
You have two new tools in your arsenal. They may or may not be necessary, but there's no denying their simplicity and newb-friendliness. Geeks scorn not, but apt-fast and getlibs can be a day-saver for the average user.
Of course, it's fully understandable if you may not want to use unofficial scripts for managing your software, but you should remember they exist, if you require them. Best of all, you can make the changes as you see fit, or maybe even create a better, more elegant version. Freedom is your oyster!
P.S. Both these programs will work with pretty much any Ubuntu-based distro and/or distributions using apt-get. For example, tested on Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Jolicloud without any issues. And I've heard PCLinuxOS works well, too.
Have fun, dear fellas!