Even though I think OS X is the most user-friendly and easy to use OS out there, can software installation be any easier than on a Linux distro with apt-get and the Synaptic front-end? I mean, of course dragging an app from a disk image (which you have to extract) is really easy. But prior to that, you’ve got to find and download the image. On a Linux distro like Ubuntu, you do a search in Synaptic, click on install and you’re done.
On the one hand, Mario is right. Installing or upgrading software in Ubuntu using Synaptic is a breeze – even simpler than on OS X. But what if the software you want isn’t available as a package?
This is one of Linux’s biggest problems, and was part two of Asa Dotzler’s reasons why Linux isn’t ready for the desktop. If the program is not on the list, you’re basically faced with three options:
- Wait until someone creates a RPM or DEB package specific to your distro – fine if you’re using a major distro like RedHat or Ubuntu but not so good if you’re using a less well-known one
- Download the binaries yourself
- Download the source code and compile it yourself
The middle option is what Windows and Mac users generally do anyway. Now while software generally just installs and works on these two OSes, because of how Linux has been designed it can be quite a bit more difficult. You may not have all of the relevant dependent packages – I believe that Fedora, for example, has to offer its own version of Firefox because Mozilla’s official build may not work with it. And if you do, you may have an incompatible version. It’s more humps to jump through and shouldn’t be necessary.
It also brings up an interesting point about security updates. Asa’s example of Firefox 1.0.6 was a good one – at the time he wrote the article 1.0.6 had just come out yet many distro vendors were still only offering packages of 1.0.5, or even 1.0.4. What if versions prior to 1.0.6 had a huge security hole that was being actively exploited? If a user of 1.0.5 gets affected, but couldn’t upgrade to 1.0.6 because the official binary wasn’t compatible with their system and the distro vendor didn’t have a package ready, then you have a problem.
As for downloading the source code, this isn’t really an option for ‘newbie’ users. Compiling generally means using the Terminal which is a scary place for any user who doesn’t know their way around the Unix command line, and means knowing the answers to all sorts of questions that the Make script may ask. Sure, it may be courteous to ask the user if he/she wants x feature installed but if the user has no idea what x is then it’s confusing. And it can also take ages, especially for complex software like Firefox – Henrik Gemal has a guide for compiling Mozilla products in Windows and it goes to 14 steps.
So software installation on Linux can be very easy. It can also be an absolute nightmare.