Tech & Work

Ubuntu 9.10 Software Center: For better or worse

Ubuntu 9.10 has migrated from Add/Remove Software to the Ubuntu Software Center. This migration is causing a stir, but Jack Wallen is here to ease your fears.

The latest Ubuntu release is out, being used, and being praised and shot down at all points. So far, the vast majority of my experiences have been outstanding. The hardware recognition is tops, all of the interfaces are slick and stable, the boot time is getting faster and faster, many sound issues have been resolved, and software is just as easy to install as it has been in the past. Or is it?

One of the new features in Ubuntu 9.10 is the Ubuntu Software Center. In a rather bold move Canonical has migrated away from the standard Add/Remove Software tool and (in the future) plans to drop Synaptic and Gdebi as well. Is this a move just for "moves" sake? I don't think so, but much of the general public does. Just what is causing these disparate opinions? From my vantage point it's a lack of knowledge. Let's take a look at the road map of the Ubuntu Software Center.

Currently the Ubuntu Software Center is at Version 1. The features of Version 1 are:

  • The ability to Install open source/free software.
  • Replacement of Add/Remove Software utility.
Seems like a fairly ubiquitous feature set. And, let's face it, the Add/Remove Software utility wasn't anything really special. Now let's take a look at the plans for Version 2.
  • Rate and review software.
  • Replace Synaptic and Gdebi.

Okay, now we're venturing on interesting and dangerous grounds. If you've ever used Synaptic, you know how powerful it is (while remaining easy to use). Synaptic is one of the finest software management tools available. Why would Ubuntu want to replace this? If you look at the other Version 2 feature you might start to get an idea of what's going on. It seems Canonical is attempting to mimic another platform's software management tool: The iPhone App store. And why not? Everyone knows the iPhone has "an app for that." So, why wouldn't Ubuntu have "an app for that?"

Considering the Linux repositories hold far more applications than the Apple App Store does - it just makes sense. And having the ability to rate and review software just might keep unwitting users from installing useless software.

Now let's move on to planned features of Version 3. This is where it REALLY gets interesting.

  • Install commercial/non-free software.
  • Integrate ratings from Launchpad into the Center.

Say no more. Canonical IS attempting to add an Apple App Store to Linux-land. The ability for users to shop for commercial software on Linux is an outstanding idea. Why? Have you ever tried searching for commercial Linux software? It's not always easy. And when you combine the entire roadmap together you can see the Ubuntu Software Center could possibly be a real game changer for Linux.

But does that make it perfect? No. There are current issues and some foreseeable ones. One of the big problems plaguing the Software Center now is that you can only install one piece of software at a time. With Synaptic and Add/Remove you can install as much as you want. This is a big issue with Linux users, and one Canonical best address or someone is going to get his beard in a knot.

Another, foreseeable, issue is the "fix broken packages" feature in Synaptic. If the Software Center doesn't include this, there could be problems. There will be those users (like myself) who will always want to go back to the command line and install using apt-get. That can, sometimes, cause packages to be installed with dependency issues. For that, Synaptic is perfect. You can simply select "Fix Broken Packages" and Synaptic will do just that. Will the Software Center? At this point, no one knows.

The last issue is choice. The Software Center is slowly winning me over. But I do like choice. I would highly recommend to the Ubuntu developers (and planners) to make sure Synaptic CAN be installed through the Software Center (or apt-get) so that those who prefer the older tool can use it. Having Synaptic available would solve a few problems. It could also generate problems - like users using applications they don't rate or review.

And that brings up my final point about the Ubuntu Software Center. If Ubuntu realizes both Versions 2 and 3, it is up to the users to make it successful. One of the reasons the Apple App Store is so successful (outside of the fact it's the only way to get applications on a non-jail-broken iPhone) is because the users take advantage of its features. By the time Version 3 rolls out, I certainly hope Ubuntu users are rating and reviewing the applications AND purchasing commercial software. The Ubuntu Software Center could really take Linux to another level, but it will require the users to make this so. Without user input and use, Ubuntu will wind up with wasted time and effort on their hands. And we all know what waisted time and effort means in the software industry - failure.

So to the users I would say: Give the Software Center a chance, let it grow on you. And to Canonical I would say: Listen to your users, make sure you can install more than one package at a time with the new tool.

What do you say? What is your opinion on the new Software Center? Are you so married to Synaptic that you can't marry yourself to a different tool? For better or worse?


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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