Open source app store

Linux vendors look to improve user experience with a common Linux app store.

February 5, 2011
Open source app store

Apps are the big thing in technology right now. Any company that has an operating system but doesn’t have a dedicated app store is doing it wrong.

Traditionally app stores were limited to mobile devices such as the iPod and Android platform but now it looks likely that Linux vendors will also jump on the app store train to spur greater adoption of desktop Linux.

Historically, installing applications on Linux was viewed as cumbersome, compounded by the fact that many Linux distributions used their own formats for packaging applications.

Today the ease-of-installation has largely been addressed and releases like Mandriva, Fedora and Ubuntu make installing applications a snap. The second issue, of different packaging formats, has not been addressed, until now.

Earlier this year major Linux vendors, including the likes of Fedora, RedHat, Ubuntu and OpenSuse, met to discuss the first steps towards creating a common method of discovering and installing Linux applications.

In a blog post, OpenDesktop.org‘s Frank Karlitschek provided details of two meetings held earlier this year.

According to Karlitschek the meetings were a chance for developers to discuss the viability of working on developing a common installation API for Linux distributions. One meeting resulted in agreement between vendors to work on a common framework, and the second brought together developers to “build a proof of concept implementation of an Application Store for openSUSE and KDE.”

It’s still early days for the project, now known as AppStream, but it has been broadly welcomed by Linux users and developers.

According the AppStream wiki, Ubuntu’s Application Centre has been identified as the starting point. This standard interface will be reworked to be compatible with most Linux distributions. Once that is done the standardised interface will make it easier for Linux users, irrespective of the version of Linux they are running, to find and install applications.

The app store will also include options for users to rate and review applications they recommend. Over time this could grow into a powerful recommendation tool for all Linux users.

For now the vision is to create a unified interface for finding Linux applications. This doesn’t mean that applications will use the same packaging format but simply that consolidated lists of applications will be available.

While most Linux users are generally pleased with these first steps towards a unified application store, not everyone is happy. Debian Project Leader Stefano Zacchiroli is among those that feel a common interface would detract from the variety offered by Linux. He has been quoted as saying that “losing those differences will not necessarily be good for Free Software, so I think that a single ‘App Store’ might still be a red herring.”

Work on the common installer is progressing well, says Karlitschek. On his blog he said that the developers already had a “basic App Store client together with a server running. All the basic features are in place and it just needs a bit more polishing.”

The first big milestone for AppStream is to have a working product by November 2011, which could be integrated into end-of-year releases.

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