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what's the name of the program that tells you how many packages need to be updated when you log in? I have it on some machines but not on others.

For example, it will say (from memory):

10 packages need updating 5 security patches


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For text mode logins the file /etc/motd ("message of the day") is displayed after login. This file is created at startup based on the scripts in /etc/update-motd.d/.

The message about available updates is created by /etc/update-motd.d/90-updates-available which just calls /usr/lib/update-notifier/update-motd-updates-available

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Maybe you mean update-manager or synaptic.

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