I have seen several times discussions in the Mageia mailing lists about RPMDrake and application management. I do even think about the application management issue since some time now, a couple of months. But without technical knowledge, I cannot produce anything of course. Nether the less Mandriva, and now Mageia have to catch up on Ubuntu systems in the way *applications* are managed and installed.
We have RPMDrake. It is a *package* manager, it is yet slow but powerful, well designed and pretty much intuitive. Only some texts and dialogs need to be really much more precise. However, package management is quite complex and really not practical for people who do not have any knowledge (nor the time to acquire it) when it comes to installing application. This issue has been partly solved in mid-2008 with the arrival of the Applications with GUI filter in the package manager. But this has brought yet another issue, where a lot of people have been complaining a lot.
Even though I still support the applications with GUI feature by default, this is not the right way to manage applications. RPMDrake is a *package* manager. When several people start RPMDrake, they expect to be able to fiddle with the packages themselves. The Packages with GUI filter, as it is unclear in the meaning, is confusing : it does show the packages, but hides others that are quite intrusive (libraries, modules, etc…). It sort of limits RPMDrake by default, in the hope of helping newbies installing the applications they can start through their Applications menu. Yet people can still be confused even with the Packages with GUI filter: there can be more than one choice depending on the available versions and releases, etc. I do remember myself back when I discovered 2008 Spring, I was really enthusiastic to see this new feature, but it was not really perfect and I could still sometime mess up or fail understanding what I was selecting.
Aside of this confusing feature, RPMDrake, as a package manager, also provides advanced technical messages and often asks for technical choices for packages even me, with almost three years of Mandriva behind me, still cannot understand. What do I mean here? To install… let’s say… gnome-games, should I install tetex or texlive? Which sub-dependencies should I select? What do they mean? Awful choices where I often answer randomly.
Looking at these issues when it comes to wanting to manage *applications*, I am convinced that Mageia will need a dedicated AppManager, without all the technicalities that can be encountered in RPMDrake. To manage applications, you need simplicity, non technical data, abundant information on applications (complete description, information on the support eventually provided, screenshots, comments, etc…), and no need of technical knowledge, what RPMDrake does require even with the Packages with GUI filter on.
An AppManager would make a clear distinction between high level and easy application management and low level and more technical package management. An AppManager can also be a chance to offer companies using/distributing Mageia to implement services in it, in a possible commercial aspect aside of the usual community version provided by the Association.
Conceiving an AppManager for Mageia would finally allow to remove the Packages with GUI functionality or, at least, turn back to default the “All packages” filter (it should be renamed that way, instead of just ‘All’). Package and Application management would certainly be more convenient for both unexperienced and experienced users that way. Ubuntu seem to have seen that soon enough and has done a good job on this aspect, Mageia must follow as well if it wants to catch up and win the public it is targeting.