There are several problems around software installation and software management in Linux. Also, there are several different point of views, opinions and different “golden ways”, depending on whom you ask. This article is the first in a small series dedicated to that problem field, and it will show my position.
It will be important to know from which position I write these articles, which point of view I have and which background. It makes it easier to understand why I care more about specific aspects of a problem than you or others might care.
I myself do not really need package management or software management: I can build software by myself, and I can also write my own rpm packages for my distribution – in fact I am a maintainer for some fedora packages.
But since I know my way around with computers I’m asked once in a while by other people if they should switch to Linux – and my answer is always no. Because these people will not be able to install software besides the tiny bits provided at the distributions repository. Sure, Debian for example has a large repository (I think it is actually the biggest) but compare that just to the amount of software provided at gnomefiles.org and kde-apps.org. Even if you just take the cool and good software out of these databases you quickly realize that Debian integrates only a fraction of these apps. And the situation is worse for all other distributions.
So, when my friends ask me I cannot suggest installing Linux because they will be lost when they want to try it out, want to play with it: searching and installing new software is part of that game, and they would be bound to the repositories. They will not be able to search around the internet for cool apps or tools and install them. The reason is obvious: there is no widespread universal installer on Linux, not even an equivalent to msi packages. And of course compiling source code is out of question.
For me that is the main reason why Linux has not found adoption among main stream users (read: people who will never know what “alternative package management” or “compile the source code” means). And I’m afraid that Linux will not be adopted by these users anytime soon, until that problem is solved.
Keeping this in your mind my position comes clear: I will take the point of view of a user. Of a normal computer user who, in the end, cares about monopolies and vendor lock in, maybe even about the ideas of FOSS, but not about technical details. The user just needs a working computer where he can perform all usual tasks – and installing software is part of that task.
Some last words about me: I know my way around with package management and alternative package managers – other articles in this series will deal with such things. So, before you suggest me now something like klick or autopackage or whatever – don’t! I know these. And I will write about them. Until then, keep in mind that I wrote widespread. That is the important bit.
Also, if you have personal or philosophical or religious feelings against a widespread installer for Linux because it is the root of all evil – I will deal with that argument as well. But you might guess that I am not your opinion at all.