Installing and Updating Software Blows Goats

Installing and updating software is a really crap experience in most of the Linux distributions that I've used. Problems:

  • You run the software install as a user session as root, meaning if you start an update, and then log out, or X crashes you loose your rpmdb or equivalent installer state.
  • If you start a software update and the GUI update tool hangs you loose your rpmdb.
  • There are long “hangs” with no progress bars, at least on Fedora.
  • Every time you log in to a new user a new update tool the entire STACK is loaded, once for each user.
  • The update tools and install tools are distro specific and a PITA to maintain.
  • Most of the distro tools (yes I'm looking at pirut and pup here) suck ass from a UI and HIG point of view.
  • You can't run a update notifier, a software installer and a package query tool all at the same time.
  • The fedora ones take AGES to load and actually let me search for software.
  • All the tools ask me for a root (or user) password. I own the bloody machine, I shouldn't need to do this.

Don't get me wrong, apt is fantastic, yum is still pretty good, but the user experience is utter crap. Ubuntu are the clear winners so far, but still fail on many issues outlines above. The first thing I do when installing fedora is uninstall pup and yum-updatesd, as they are just too broken for me to use. So rant over. What should we do about it? Package management as a system service. Yes, per system. When you install packages you do it as a the root user, usually for all users so it makes sense to do this in the system context. Using the new system activation stuff also allows us to start the service only when it is actually needed, i.e. when someone is trying to install something, or there is a logged in user who wants updates. APT, yum, portage etc as backends Yes, so users can still drop to a root shell and use the full command set of the native tool, but common stuff is abstracted over nice abstract interfaces. DBUS API? Sure, then we can lock it down per user or per group on interface type, so for instance let all users in the admin group install and remove packages, but only let students query packages. Common tools? YES!! We choose best of breed. We have one GNOME upstream update watcher (the ubuntu one is very good) we have one GNOME software install tool for power users (synaptic is very, very good) and also a GNOME tool for end users. The ubuntu simple application chooser is also very good. Details? Remember this is just designed for common stuff, rather than abstract every little detail of the underlying backend. These are my ramblings so far:

 org.freedesktop.PackageManagement.Query as=FindPackages(s) throws NotFound() i=GetInstalledVersion (s) throws NotInstalled() as=GetOptionalDependencies(s) throws NotFound() as=GetSuggestedDependencies(s) throws NotFound() as=GetForcedDependencies(s) throws NotFound() org.freedesktop.PackageManagement.Manage b=RemovePackages (as) throws OtherPackagesDepend(as), NotFound() bas=RemovePackagesWithDependencies (as), NotFound(as) b=InstallPackages(as) throws NotFound(as), DependenciesNotSatisfied(as) bas=InstallPackagesWithDependencies(as) throws NotFound(as) ::RemovedPackages(as) ::InstalledPackages(as) org.freedesktop.PackageManagement.Update b=IsThereUpdates(i) a(sis)=GetUpdates() throws NoUpdates() b=UpdateSystem() throws NoUpdates() ::NewUpdates(a(sis)) 

Where to go from here? I don't know. One thing I don't know how to fix is the callbacks for percentage completeness. Do we have to make the API asynchronous? Is there interest in fixing this stuff? Am I the only person who thinks the current bodges are insufficient for the Linux Desktop of the future? Please, leave comments (or email me) with any suggestions, corrections, or insults. Thanks.

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Richard has over 10 years of experience developing open source software. He is the maintainer of GNOME Software, PackageKit, GNOME Packagekit, GNOME Power Manager, GNOME Color Manager, colord, and UPower and also contributes to many other projects and opensource standards. Richard has three main areas of interest on the free desktop, color management, package management, and power management. Richard graduated a few years ago from the University of Surrey with a Masters in Electronics Engineering. He now works for Red Hat in the desktop group, and also manages a company selling open source calibration equipment. Richard's outside interests include taking photos and eating good food.

One thought on “Installing and Updating Software Blows Goats”

  1. I'm not totally sure on the system service thing: you can't get around the transactional nature of installing software which necessitates a lock anyway, and the “can't search (etc.)” without an rpm lock could surely be fixed in other ways. The Ubuntu experience is vastly better than Fedora in many ways, I don't think it suffers half the issues you mention, plus they can upgrade the whole distribution. Package management still feels like a pain on Fedora, but I don't think it's the concept, it's just the implementation. I moved from yum to smart a while ago, and even including the terrible cache loading time, it's miles better.

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