A few days ago I wrote about upgrading my linux box to Ubuntu Natty Narwhal and mentioned that I hate the new user experience the system offers.

tl;dr –> I don’t care, take me to the screenshots!

I was wrong.

It. Is. Fucking. Awesome.

But what I wanted to talk about today was how a bunch of opensource geeks have managed to beat the paragon of usability and App Stores and all things shiny and awesome when it comes to managing apps, installing software and so on.

Lest anyone feel like donning me in feathers and tar and making me run through a desert, I do realize there’s probably  more to Canonical than being a bunch of opensource geeks, but that’s besides the point.

There are two parts to what Ubuntu has created that makes the experience of app management so awesome. The the package manager and the cool interface.

Now package managers are nothing new to anyone who’s ever used linux before … for some strange reason, even though Linux has had several package managers and nobody can fathom using a distro without one for at least the past 20 years (debian’s dpkg first came out in 1993) … no other OS has ever managed to use a package manager.

Getting an App the old way

Installing an application on Windows and MacOS usually goes something like this:

  1. Hmm, I need to do something
  2. Google for it
  3. Ask for recommendations on twitter
  4. Get a bunch of things you should try
  5. Start finding homepages of this stuff
  6. Download a bunch of stuff
  7. Your most authoritative friend in the field finally chimes in and tells you what you want
  8. Find the homepage for that
  9. Download it (and/or buy it somewhere)
  10. Install the damn thing
  11. Get fed up
  12. Do whatever it is you wanted to do tomorrow
  13. Come back tomorrow, go through twitter stream to find out what the app was called
  14. Launch the app
  15. Be happy

Your average package manager makes the whole process a bit simpler, something like this:

  1. Hmm, I need to do something
  2. Google
  3. Asking for recommendations
  4. apt-get something
  5. Use it
  6. Get a better recommendation
  7. apt-get something-else-entirely
  8. Use that
  9. Be happy

The most notable difference is that suddenly you have this authoritative source of applications where everything is available in a single place. Sure, if you have specific needs you might still have to visit a website or two, three, four, five to get the specific version of the package you need just in case the one your distro offers is too old … but all in all, the process is much nicer.

A lot more instant gratification. And as a geek who likes to pretend to be a normal user now and anon, instant gratification is awesome.

The App Store saves the day

Recently Apple has done some improvements and became more like Linux with its variety of App Stores, the one on iOS works pretty well, the one on MacOS is … well it’s just a dash bit strange to be honest. It doesn’t feel right. It isn’t tightly integrated into the OS itself, it doesn’t really offer anything to make me want to use it.

And it just doesn’t look very apple-y either. I don’t know, it lacks a certain zing to it and I rarely if ever open it to install something. It just sort of sits there existing for the sake of existence.

I think maybe what’s lacking the most is the integration. When there are updates I simply don’t find out about them until I randomly open the store … and the fact it’s even called a store doesn’t really help my frugal sense of how software should operate at all. I feel a natural aversion to opening it before I even look at what it is because I know somebody will just try to shove stuff in my face and make me buy it.

You know, sort of like iTunes.

I dislike iTunes with the passion of a thousand virgins.

Another big issue with the App Store that I have is that it only works for Apps. What about all the other software I need on my computer? Sure, maybe I’m a bit of a pathological case being a developer and all, but still. Why do I need homebrew, fink, macports and so on? Why!? I don’t want all of that.

But let’s look at screenshots, screenshots are good.

The App Store in screenshots

The general impression is one of pushines

Categories put apps in the spotlight

Apps listing really shows which apps are "best"

Installed apps aren't by far a representive list of everything I have installed

The Ubuntu Software Center

Nice clean and unassuming

Categories have subcategories

The listing is pretty simple

Some items can be bought, others just downloaded

You can actually remove apps you don't want anymore

Comparing discoverability

Let’s pretend for a moment that both Apple and Ubuntu have solved the problem with package managers … sort of. There is an almost sane way of installing new software on either OS.

What about discoverability? How do I find apps that are already installed? What about apps that I might want but have no idea on how to find?

Ubuntu’s new Unity interface might finally provide an answer to that.

As much as crowdsourcing app suggestions is good and awesome, I think this might be better.

Let me show you some screenshots of the Ubuntu app management and usage experience:

The launcher shows some friendly categories

Picking one gives you a bunch of apps and suggestions to get more

There are of course other categories as well

Something like Quicksilver works here too

Apple’s offering somehow just doesn’t come close

 

Apps are in a folder, yay

Installing 3rd party software gives a cool launcher

Conclusion

All in all, I think Ubuntu has made a great leap to making the whole experience of using third party software much much easier on the palate. There’s still a long way to go and a bunch of geeks are already complaining that the whole interface sucks, but they keep forgetting just how much it sucks for everybody else who isn’t using linux. We’re just spoiled.

Of course there is still a long way to go and the new interface does have its issues. There’s also a big chance that cometh MacOS 10.7 everything might change. The App Store was meant for the new version after all and the fact we’re even allowed to use it already is supposed to be a grace of the Gods and so on.

We’ll see, I really hope they come even close to Ubuntu Natty Narwhal because my laptop is (and always will be) running a Mac OS.

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  • Not

    Ha prs.

  • Anonymous

    After removing the ridiculous steps that you added to the Windows/Mac OS app install process, I came up with the same number of steps that you have for package managers:

    1. Hmm, I need to do something
    2. Google
    3. Asking for recommendations
    4. Download and install it.
    5. Use it
    6. Get a better recommendation
    7. Download and install something else entirely.
    8. Use that.
    9. Be Happy.

  • Anonymous

    Furthermore, nothing much has changed with these new app stores. You’re still going to google for recommendations. You’re not going to simply look at the reviews in the store because you know better than that. For all intents and purposes, nothing has changed.

  • http://horia.me Horia Dragomir

    But this is not about “intents and purposes,” it’s about process. That has changed to the better.

  • http://twitter.com/explodingwalrus Carl Draper

    Yes, but Unity is still full bugs and it feels like it’s getting in the way of me actually using apps

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  • http://mrminimalist.nfshost.com Mark Szymanski

    Uh, what? You just ranted about how much better Ubuntu is that OS X. And yet you said you will always be using OS X.

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  • Anonymous

    Nice article.Thanks for sharing. Work Plan Platform

  • Mustapha

    First off, you’ve provided multiple signals suggesting that you are an idiot that doesn’t even know what Linux is.

    Second, you’re yet to tell us how Ubuntu’s Appstore is “better” than Apple’s. This is usually a common trait amongst Linux fanboys (most of which have no idea what /usr/src even is), but if you’d be so kind as to illustrate what is “better” about it, (other than, perhaps, Apple’s Appstore doesn’t look shiny. Ubuntu’s Appstore has search filters for installed apps).

    Also, you made this comment “Linux has had several package managers and nobody can fathom using a distro without one for at least the past 20 years”, firstly I’d like to state that “Linux” does not have a package management system, and that until rather recently, Slackware didn’t have one, nor does LFS.

    “No other OS has ever managed to use a package manager.”, I’ll take this juncture to re-itterate my first point, “you’ve provided multiple signals suggesting that you are an idiot that doesn’t even know what Linux is.”

    1. Linux is not an OS. It does not use a package management system,

    2. FreeBSD has had ports since circa 1994.

    3. OS X provides (via third-party) macports, fink and homebrew (also its Appstore, and Bodega), where cygwin, appsnap, appupdater, getit and ninite are available on Windows. (Also opensolaris, aix, etc)

    The only true caveat you managed to mention in your psycho-babble was the search filter of installed applications feature. I agree wholeheartedly with this. However, Apple is managed to provide this with the iPad Appstore, and would probably cater for it and more, in 10.7

    I’m not an OS X fanboy, in actuality I spent ~10 years running, coding and patching on, and for it (where “it” here means the Linux kernel, and not your delusional interpretation of Linux being an OS.

    It’s evident that you know little or nothing, whilst also claiming the title of “developer”.

    In future, try to do the adequate levels of research before posting another incoherent, and uneducated document.

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