Linux vendors teaming up for an app store

Unified application installer will give users an easier way to find and install apps, regardless of the distribution they use

There seems to be no end to the momentum propelling Linux into the mainstream these days, and this week news came out that's surely among the most exciting developments yet.

Specifically, many of the biggest Linux distributions are teaming up to create a unified "Application Store" format that would span those distributions, making it easier for users of the free and open source operating system to find and install applications in a consistent way, regardless of the particular distribution they use.

"More and more people in the Linux world realize that a nice application installer (Application Store) is needed to make the Linux platform more attractive for normal users and third party developers," wrote KDE contributor and openDesktop.org maintainer Frank Karlitschek in a blog post on Monday.

Most distributions' package managers expose far too much complexity to end users, Karlitschek explained: "The normal user doesn´t care about dependencies, libraries and other internals. But the user cares about things like screenshots, description texts, ratings, tags, comments, recommendation from friends and other features which current package managers don´t provide."

The idea, then, is "to build a better tool for finding and installing applications which sits on top of the current package management," he wrote.

'We Have a Basic Client'

Toward that end, developers from Red Hat, Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, Mandriva and Mageia met recently at the SUSE office in Nürnberg, Germany, and discussed ways to build a common application installer API and infrastructure. They've now agreed on an architecture and "will work in the next few months to bring this to all major distributions," Karlitschek wrote.

In the meantime, representatives from openSUSE and KDE have built a proof-of-concept implementation of an Application Store for openSUSE and KDE.

"We have a basic App Store client together with a server running," Karlitschek explained. "All the basic features are in place and it just needs a bit more polishing."

The initiative is part of the Bretzn project, a KDE initiative proposed last fall that aims to make it easier to get free software applications out to users. Part of the plan is to port the Ubuntu Software Center to PackageKit, as OStatic notes.

Open Collaboration Services, meanwhile, will be used to integrate with online social services and allow user ratings and comments, according to PackageKit maintainer Richard Hughes.

Further details about the project--sometimes referred to as AppStream--are available on its Freedesktop wiki page and in a YouTube video of a related conference presentation.

'Linux Emporium' on the Way?

It's important to note that the current initiative doesn't refer to a single, centralized "store" that will include applications for any and all Linux distributions, as other reports have pointed out. Rather, it's a unified way of helping users find, evaluate and install the applications that are available for their Linux distribution.

Nevertheless, it's hard not to imagine the project's next step, which could well be a single set of applications available in a central place to users of all Linux distributions. One day, in addition to the App Store and the Android Market, it's just possible we'll have a centralized "Linux Emporium" too, and that could go a long way toward eliminating once and for all the "fragmentation problem" so often raised by the operating system's critics.

In the meantime, though, this will surely unify and improve Linux users' experience when it comes to finding and installing software, and that alone is a big deal. Stay tuned for more details.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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