I was having a discussion earlier on IRC about the role of the N900′s App Manager. The question I’m raising is: is it legitimate to package non-programs which can be already downloaded in another way?
Here’s an example. A film which is DFSG-free such as Sita Sings the Blues could be packaged as an app. The package would install the .mp4 of the film, which would then appear in Media Player, but perhaps would also have an icon in the launcher. (Of course people can already find Sita on the web and watch or download it there, giving the same effect, but then they might be more likely to find it in the app launcher.)
Far-fetched? Not really; there are already iPhone apps which contain only a book, and there are existing Debian packages which only install free HTML and text content.
Since films are essentially documents which can be opened by Media Player, the question can be generalised: Should documents be packaged, or only apps? When someone ports Frotz to the N900, should it have its own separate download manager for Z-machine games inside it as the iPhone port does, or should each game become available in the App Manager as a separate package as used to be done on Debian?
And then there are radio stations such as Soma FM which have iPhone apps to let you listen to them. Now of course you can already do this in the N900′s media player, so would it be worthwhile for them to package a specific N900 app which connected to their streams? Or to make a package which only populated the media player with a list of them?
But just because people do something with the iPhone it’s not necessarily a good idea:
- media packages should probably install into /home/user/MyDocs or /media/mmc*, but the conventional place for large files in app packages is /opt, which would fill up quite quickly with a few Sita-sized films
- each package gets to run scripts as root, and this may have more security considerations than people are comfortable with just to watch a film
- people expect app stores to contain apps (don’t they?)
I think an alternative route would be to have one standard application which could maintain a browsable list of Free content, and which could download it for you as appropriate. Maybe it could be extensible to act as a download manager for Free content for the emulators and so on, as well as just films and text. What do you think of all this?
Photo © Caro’s Lines, cc-by-nc-sa.