January 27, 2011
Leading Linux distribution developers met recently to discuss how they could make it easier for users to find, download, and install applications, perhaps using the App Store-like approach that has become so successful in the Android and Apple worlds.
Developers from Debian, Fedora, Red Hat, Mageia, Mandriva, openSUSE, and Ubuntu met Jan. 19-21 at the SUSE office in Nürnberg, Germany, and conferred about a universal application installer API and infrastructure -- which they referred to as an Application Store. This cross-distribution meeting on an application installer addressed several key aims, such as agreeing on a common user interface to install applications; concurring on the metadata to use, how to generate it, and where to host it; consenting on a protocol to provide non-static metadata; and deciding what metadata to share between distributions and what metadata should stay distribution-specific, according to the meeting agenda. "In reality, if it turns out we can't all agree on one item, it's still fine: it doesn't mean we can't collaborate on the other items. And some distros might still work together," the wiki said. "It's worth mentioning here that what matters to us is the end-user experience. It matters more than the technical implementation." The confab -- dubbed "Cross-Distro Craziness" -- was videotaped, and can be viewed on YouTube. "Even if this doesn't turn out to work, the fact that we got all these distros to come together and work on something as one is a big ++ for everything Linux," wrote a video-viewer. Developers determined the Ubuntu Software Center has the most appropriate user interface, and plans to port it to PackageKit, a system designed to simplify the installation and updating of software on a computer, according to OStatic. In addition, the group decided to use Xapian's open source search engine library, and Open Collaboration Services for integration of Web communities and Web-based services, as well as user ratings and reviews, in desktop and mobile applications, OStatic said. Under current plans, a server will store metadata such as package data, icon location, and repository type and location, the article said. A compose server will take package data from the desktop file. All participating distribution developers must provide each package, and the output server will generate this information to a common XML file, OStatic said. The user interface for AppStream will be the front-end for PackageKit; this will instruct the distribution's package management system to install the application requested by the user, according to OStatic . The concept of distribution developers working together to simplify Linux installation is not new. In 2009, for example, game porter Ryan Gordon created FatElf, "a file format that embeds multiple ELF binaries for different architectures into one file."
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