Over the past few weeks, the fate of Ubuntu's Software Center has received a lot of press. There have been ample ravings about how the Software Center is about to vanish from the face of the Earth. In reality, it's not going anywhere yet. What is changing, however, will be the ability to submit new applications or updates to existing applications. In this article, I'll explain what this means and where things will likely go from here.
The Software Center Alternatives
Unless you purchased software from the Ubuntu Software Center, you're not likely going to be affected. I also believe that even though the Software Center's development has been suspended, the basic maintenance support to keep it "working" will continue. And even though some Ubuntu flavors have done away with the software center completely, they do so with alternatives in mind.
It's worth noting that even if the software was to disappear completely one day, there are ample alternatives already in use today:
Linux Mint's Software Center – Lighter and faster than Ubuntu's Software Center, Mint's Software Center offers the same functionality and sense of discovery without the bloat.
Ubuntu MATE's Welcome– Disclosure: I actually helped with some of the software suggestions found in Ubuntu MATE's Welcome screen. The idea with the software section is that a new user can find core apps that they might need immediately, without needing to include them all in the ISO. The added benefit is the mixed licensing freedom since the user decides what they install.
Deepin Linux Software Center – In terms of presenting Linux apps well, I think the Deepin Software Center does a good job. It features fancy graphics for applications like gtkpod, plus it performs well overall. The overall experience however mirrors that of Ubuntu and Mint's software centers.
App Grid – Easily the most controversial of the options listed here. App Grid receives high marks for performance, however its developer receives low marks by some enthusiasts due to it being a closed source product. For newbies, licenses be damned, it blows the doors off of the official Ubuntu Software Center. But for more advanced users, it might not be a great match.
Why are Software Center Applications important
When you ask an experienced Linux enthusiast, it's not at all uncommon for them to scoff at the idea of using something like the Software Center. And rightfully so. This is an individual that knows how to install 30 apps at the same time, while appending -y so the process of running "apt-get install foo foo2 foo3 - y" is automatic
Newbies need something that allows them to install software visually. They also need to be able to view images and reviews for potential software installations. Some might argue that Google could provide the same result. The problem is Google isn't a good judge of compatibility. Even if a new user stumbles upon the right query for the task at hand, they may end up trying to install the wrong package format for their system.
Then there is the benefit of simply window shopping. Even today, I've been known to use the Software Center simply to see what applications are out there that I may not have heard of. It's a great option to have available. Luckily there are other resources for software discovery.
Websites for software discovery
Beyond Software Center type tools for application discovery, I also recommend looking into the following websites for new applications.
Linux.com – A fairly up-to-date list of applications. The only real downside is many of these software titles are server specific.
Alternativeto.net – Easily one of the better resources out there. Like other sources on the Web, this page is useful when you know of an application for Windows and need a Linux replacement.
GetDeb.net – I'd rank this source as one of the better options for Ubuntu users. Simply select the version of Ubuntu you have and start installing software.
There are other websites I haven't listed, because they also offer news, reviews and other stuff that isn't application discovery specific. If you don't mind sorting through other content, sites like OMGUbuntu, Web Upd8, and LinuxVeda can also offer hot tips on new software worth checking out.
Post-Ubuntu Software Center
Something that I think escapes most people is that the slow death of the Ubuntu Software Center isn't really an issue. It's the move away from Debian packaging in favor of the Snappy Core way of doing things. From a server and "Internet of things" perspective, Snappy makes a whole lot of sense.
From a desktop computing point of view, I don't think we're going to see Snappy Core software adoption become as big of a success as some might think. For the foreseeable future, the Debian approach to packages on the desktop will likely be here to stay. Any switching will be slow, as not to create too much trouble for the existing Ubuntu user base.
What remains unanswered at this time is: how Snappy apps will be visually discovered? Will there be a storefront of sorts that users can locate and install software from? Speaking strictly from my own perspective, I think this is something that had better be on the Ubuntu priority list as the switch away from apt begins.
Visual discovery matters
I want to leave you with the following statement: Synaptic isn't an Ubuntu Software Center alternative and typing apt-get install isn't a replacement either. Visual discovery matters and it needs to be moved away from random websites on the Internet. With both Apple and Microsoft embracing the benefits of visual software discovery with their own app stores, it's high time Linux distros start taking this more seriously.
Linux enthusiasts – hear me: Software stores are not a matter of ease of installation. They offer people the ability to read reviews, get a feature list and then decide if the application meets with their expectations. Last time I checked, "man pages" and the Arch AUR doesn't offer this. This, my friends, is the one sticking point I've been trying to get across to Linux users for years.
Think I'm wrong? Please share your experiences demonstrating software discovery using a command line tool with your family – I'd be legitimately interested in the outcome.
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