18 December 2009

Package Manager Roundup

It's about high time I write this review.

On all Linux-based operating systems, software is installed via something we call a package manager. A package manager is a program used to install many applications, or "packages". A good analogy would be the iTunes app store, or many game console services like PSN or Xbox Live. A central source where one can download applications from a single, trusted, source.

Of course, on linux operating systems, we aren't limited to one source, but many officially trusted sources, and if we so choose, some personally trusted ones as well. We call these sources and the servers they sit on "repositories".

This review was done using Kubuntu 9.10 "karmic koala". Kubuntu is a linux-based operating system that uses the same sources, or "repositories", as Ubuntu. What differentiates Kubuntu and Ubuntu is that whilst Ubuntu uses the desktop and programs designed by the GNOME project, Kubuntu opts to utilize the desktop and applications from the KDE project.

Enough background! I've rounded up 3 major package managers to review: Kpackagekit, Ubuntu Software Center, and Adept.


Kpackagekit takes it's name from the fact that it's designed for a KDE OS, "K" and the underlying technologies it uses, "packagekit". Points off for the confusing name. However, if you navigate to it in the system settings, it has a much friendlier name, as KDE has begun to do with many things with unwieldy names.

When one opens Kpackagekit, they are greeted with a large blank space. Kpackagekit gets points off for not including any sort of categorial "browse" view, opting for a completely search-based interface. The search interface does sport some impressive searching options.

All-in-all, I found the interface to be jumpy, moving things when I clicked on them and a little jittery. The search results came up with rather funny things (showing the user things like libraries and other stuff they wouldn't be interested in). Also, I've found it to be rather crash-y. Probably the worst type of program you want to have crash on you, leaving partially-installed programs.

A few redeeming qualities, I ran the whole program in user-mode, meaning it always themed and blended into my desktop. Also, it's easily available as a module inside of the KDE system settings. That's a huge plus. Also, kpackagekit shines in areas I didn't focus, like updates, offering you a breakdown of bugfix/security/feature updates. One of the neatest features I found for power users would be the history.

I'm not sure why Kubuntu chose this as a default in 9.10, hopefully they were just assuming it would be get good enough for 10.04, and they ought to switch now.


Adept used was the default package manager for Kubuntu for quite a few years, even receiving a gigantic overhaul in user-friendliness with it's KDE 4 series rewrite.

Click here to install.

When you open up Adept in it's normal view known as "Add/Remove Software" in the menu, you are greeted with a browser view. There's columns of categories, large lists, and a simple search bar.

It features the strange "expand for info" paradigm in the list as Kpackagekit does, which causes the interface to freakishly "jump". Points off for that. However, the interface is nice, easy to read. It follows the "check check check, go!" method of management, only applying the changes once you're certain about them. I really like this feature. It also includes a "preview" view, to review and alter the changes you're proposing, this is a great plus.

Sadly, however, this entire program must be run with root, or super-user, priveledges, and cannot be running while another adept/synaptic/old-style-package-manager is running. This means that not only do you not have the program running with your custom themes, colors, or icons, but it's also less secure. You'll notice that despite my dark theme, the program is running with the default light theme.

Adept does not have update applets with it, so it can't tell you when there's new updates, so you wouldn't be removing Kpackagekit if you used this. It does shine in exposing the user to software.

Ubuntu Software Center

For the 9.10 version of Ubuntu, the Ubuntu developers decided to replace all of the utilities for their Operating system with a simpler one, which they wrote. Remember how I told you that Ubuntu and Kubuntu share software sources, or repositories? This means that any program available on one, is on the other.

Click here to install

The Ubuntu software center surprised me with how lightweight, dead simple, and responsive it was. You open up to a click-through category interface. This removes the need for a whole column taking up space for categories.

What struck me when I started up the program, was that it adopted my icons, something that GNOME project applications often do not. it actually fit right at home in Kubuntu. The integration is also helped by the fact that it runs in user-mode, retaining your colors and theme, rather than open up in root, or super-user, mode.

Notice how instead of the "expand" paradigm, they take you to a full page with screenshots and information on the application. This is wonderful. There are easy buttons to go the website or to install.

The installation process happens right away, with no way to review the process before it happens. It's done for simplicity sake, but this is a case of simple v. simplistic. The only negative point I found.

The search came up with a small list of relevant choices, there's a place to see your installed applications, and note how the software section is called
"Get Free Software". It's clear, to the point, and points to a possible inclusion of proprietary, or non-free, software.

All-in-all it's a fast, responsive. I expected it to be out of place my Kubuntu system, but it was perfectly blended. I like the option to only show Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu and Kubuntu) maintained applications. The search is simple and highly effective, and the selection of applications neither favored GNOME project software, nor included complicated things like libraries (which are automatically installed as programs that need them are installed). The only thing I was left wanting was a "Checkmark --> Apply Changes" paradigm, but that might be my old-hat thinking.


Leave Kpackagekit installed for it's superior update service, rather than trying to find whatever adept used to, or what ubuntu uses now.

And install the Ubuntu Software Center, a marvelous application.

Many point out that the freedom of choice is one of the biggest Linux blessings, I'd like to also add that The ability to install any of the same applications between Ubuntu and Kubuntu is a hugely appreciated blessing as well, that many GNOME/KDE purists ignore.

Kpackagekit is included with Kubuntu 9.10 .

Click to install Adept
Click to install Ubuntu Software Center


William said...

Install links to don't work with apturl!

Sam said...

Fixed. There's a weird discrepancy in how each browser handles links.

William said...

Thank you!