Friday, September 18, 2009

PackageKit, The Superior update-manager Alternative

So, Dad decided to mess with his Ubuntu installation over the weekend -- he upgraded from Hardy to Jaunty as a one-step upgrade, which, somewhat unsurprisingly, broke heaps of stuff.

(personal opinion: It is for this reason, I hope the Ubuntu guys don't go head-long into GNOME 3.0 for "whatever-the-hell-the-L-release-is-called" if it's going to be a standard 6-month release cycle AND an LTS -- because they'll have people from 8.04 or 6.06 triggering ungrades and no-one wants a repeat of the PulseAudio debacle but on a far bigger scale. Either a) leave GNOME 2.28, continue polishing it and push GNOME 3.0 for the release after the LTS, so it gets three releases (or 2 years) of polish before it goes to the masses, or b) make the release cycle 6 months longer for an LTS, just like 6.06 was, but for the right reasons.)

Anyway, after re-installing Jaunty from scratch, fixing his RAID, re-installing his printer and playing with DKMS because his nVidia card doesn't like the newest driver in Jaunty, but will happily work with anything older -- we tripped over the 'incredible, vanishing update manager issue'.

(personal opinion II: big, big cock-up on the part of the Ubuntu guys -- Windows has an update icon, MacOSX has an update icon, every other distribution of UNIX has an update icon, but a 50+ year old man can have a taskbar full of update-manager windows, which makes the one browser window icon in the window list appear as 3-pixels wide because he doesn't understand he has to close them all individually? It would have been better to pop up a dialogue in the middle of the screen that says "Security Updates Are Available for Your Computer, would you like to install them now?" (or "Non-Essential Updates" in the case of non-security updates), or leave the icon where it was and hack in OSD notifications (like NetworkManager does) -- but don't just leave a glowing taskbar window in the bottom left hand corner, UI or Accessibility designers would turn in their graves.)

Anyway ... Given the track record that Ubuntu has for making seat-of-the-pant changes like that and taking forever to admit it was a mistake and reverting it to sensible behaviour, I decided to give PackageKit a try.

Short story -- impressive.

Installation was a simple: apt-get -f install packagekit packagekit-gnome gstreamer0.10-packagekit

The Ubuntu packages in Jaunty do add a duplicate "Update Manager" icon to the System ⇢ Administration menu, but that's purely cosmetic -- upon install it does make itself the default package update manager, which is a step in the right direction.

I have always been concerned about the way updates are presented for non-technical users, Microsoft nearly has it right -- too much information scares the non-technical user, but most UNIX variations give too much superfluous information to the user, great for technical types who actually fix issues -- and certainly something that shouldn't be removed, just 'shielded' from the user somehow).

PackageKit does this well, it gives the user notification that updates are pending in the standard way (which was our major gripe that prompted the change) but is also laid out in such a way that Dad found easier to drive than the traditional package manager (as he put it, "I already like the idea you can press a button to review changes before they happen.").

As I may of mentioned before in this blog, my dad is not a unintelligent man, he's been involved with computers, electronics, data communications, radio and just about any other form of technology you'd care to mention forever -- we've worked together on some massive projects, including hardware design, starting our own UNIX distribution and starting up smaller technology projects together -- and he has been a Linux user for nearly 5 years himself, but he's firmly a "a computer is a tool, just make the thing work" man, rather than a "let's experiment" one.

(He also builds RC Boats for a hobby, which is just cool.)