Ubuntu AppStore in the workings ?

Ubuntu AppStore in the workings ?

We live in cool times. Everybody’s up creating an AppStore of some kind. After Apple brought out the concept, Nokia, Microsoft and even Sun (really !) are hurrying up putting together their ones.

Many Open Source supporters have noted again and again, that Linux repositories are pretty much the equivalent of an AppStore. Interestingly enough, many Mac users noted the same thing, equaling Ubuntu’s Add/Remove program to the iPhone AppStore.

Still, there’s some ground to fill, as AppStore has some end user features that Linux equivalents lack.

So what’s the news ?

It seems that times are finally mature for Ubuntu to re-do their package manager frontend.

Well, their four (4!) frontends, since Ubuntu currently uses a mixture of Synaptics, Add/Remove applications, UpdateManager and gDebi to full fill its software needs.

A Launchpad blueprint dated 2005 (!) has been finally taken in consideration and the related wiki page has been given some love during the past months.

It’s incautious to base prediction on a (brainstorming) wiki page

Right. I’m just rambling. That wiki page is around since 2005, and what’s listed is just some kind of brainstorm, nothing more.

So, take this post with a silos of salt ;-) Everything in here is just guesses. So not everything or nothing at all will become reality.

It’s incautious to talk about an Ubuntu AppStore

That said, the project codename is AppCenter, which is similar enough (the word ‘store‘ may have some heavy repercussions among ner..community).

I can definitely foresee a lot of hype for this project, when it will go live.

Some of the hottest features may (probably) be:

  • it will be an unified solution to handle all the required functionalities
  • user reviews on every package (yay!)
  • user rating on every package
  • screenshots of the applications (sort of already present in Jaunty’s Synaptic – did you noticed ?)
  • asynchronous download and installation (dependencies getting downloaded first and should install *while* the dependant software is being downloaded)
  • being much more friendly and explanatory.
  • better support for paid applications

Even more incautiously

I have a strong sensation that the new AppCenter will feature much better support (thus emphasis) for paid applications. I have no proof, though ;-) .

2005… will that ever be done ?

I believe so, mostly because the Blueprint has been scheduled for discussion with High priority. Also the 2 images in the page, look pretty much Canonicalish. ;-)

Ubuntu App Center Mockup

Notice how the left list includes the Partner repository

So, looks like the ‘Add/Remove’ program with a reworked left pane which displays a custom taxonomy. Don’t miss how the partner software is present in the list. Also the application list shows the size of the program (downloaded? installed?).

Another mockup, this time cooler:

Maintenance Graph mockup

This shows the status of Canonical support for the installed software.

I defined those mockup Canonicalish because they mainly deal with Canonical needs. That’s not obviously to say that the AppCenter will serve only for that, there have been a lot of request for changes and features about how the applications are installed in Linux.

Please note that those mockups are likely to serve just to highlight a few points, I guess and hope the final design will be pretty much different.

When ?

Here’s the good news: the blueprint is scheduled for discussion at the Karmic UDS (which is a massive meeting to decide how the next Ubuntu release will be), which will start… today !

So probably they will decide for something totally different from the wiki page content and this post will end up being confirmed to be erroneous in 1 or 2 days. Too bad. ;-)

Here’s the bad news: I frankly doubt it will be shipped in the next Ubuntu release. Also I think much more testing than the usual will be done for such a fundamental part of the system. The path more likely to be followed is the usual PPA testing release, followed by the official release 6 month later.

What about Kubuntu ?

I have no idea. But, hey, this is your chance to start whining in advance ! ;-)

What would I like

Because I know you care about what *I* want. ;-)

I pretty much like the AppStore comparison. But like even more the Firefox Addons website. Especially I’d like to see a nice welcome screen, with a series of links to various sections such as:

  • recommended first time packages (pre-decided list, to help new users)
  • most popular packages
  • newer packages (listing the newer desktop applications added in the current  ubuntu release. Could also update every time a new repository is added).

An application wide filter to hide non-desktop stuff (like it already happen in with the Add/Remove thingie) would also be appreciated.

Also a permalink on the description page, would be pretty nice. You want to suggest a package to someone? You just have to copy paste the (apt url) application link into your IM or blog post.

Also I hope they find the right way to allow user reviews/comments as I consider those fundamentals. Have you ever wondered why Php is more widespread than Python ? Because user comments on the manual (php | python). Yes, that’s the reason.

What I would like, but no one will do

I would like third party repositories to be installable via APT url.

  1. you click the link
  2. AppCenter opens and shows
    - a warning about third party software (usual scaring disclaimer)
    - other users comments and rating (“attention! it’s virus respostitory ! xcuse my englisc me am from Italy!”)
  3. you click confirm
  4. the ‘new’ section updates with the newer/updated packages, and you get redirected there
  5. you install everything you can thus screwing your box.

As noted, don’t expect this to come anytime soon. Ask me why.


Matthew Paul Thomas, Canonical employee, has been kind enough to post a comment and make some points even clearer. Big thanks !

This is a multi-release project. Our goal is to have a version 1.0 of the application ready to feature in Ubuntu 9.10, but exactly how much it will do remains to be seen. For example, user ratings and reviews almost certainly will not be in 1.0.

The first mockup you posted was drawn by a community member, based on a sketch of mine, and almost certainly does not reflect the final layout. For example, your suggestion of a welcome screen is spot-on, and is very similar to what we discussed during the session.

UPDATE 2: Roadmap and some more discussion here !

Further reading

Find all the good stuff here:

Is there anything you’d like the new AppCenter to handle ? Do you have any additional information you’d like to share ?

This seems like a great time to subscribe my RSS !

39 responses to “Ubuntu AppStore in the workings ?”

  1. Eetu Huisman

    The obvious thing is that it should use PackageKit (http://www.packagekit.org/). In fact, it should be implemented so that (at least almost) everything can be contributed to upstream PackageKit.

  2. Dim

    Having an app store in Ubuntu would be great! The app store, concentrating all apps available to Ubuntu users (including proprietary, free and paid, so current repositories are not the case) will be the final answer to those who still think that installing apps in Ubuntu is hard, will add profit to Canonical and will attract paid-software developers/companies to Ubuntu. Users will get more quality software on Ubuntu, open-source software will get competition from proprietary software on Linux, and competition is always good. Open-source purists will probably be angry, but Ubuntu is not “Linux for open-source purists”.

    I agree that they should extend PackageKit with this.

  3. TomTasche


    ” * apt-url for arbitrary PPAs”

    I think that´s what you would like, but no one will do :D

    Nice article :)


  4. Anonymous

    Time to move to Debian…

  5. Stefano Forenza

    @Anonymouse: isn’t that excessive. My are just guesses, anyway.

  6. Johannes

    Greyt post, indid. Continue wiz the greyt job.
    (xcuz my English, je suis from France.)

  7. Stefano Forenza

    @johannes: j’aime la france. pardon mon terrible fraincaise :) Mercy beacoup !

  8. Douglas

    The APT-URL-stuff already exists, see

  9. fanino maynardo

    thats good, but I prefer fedora, more fast and easy install and upgrade packages

  10. Daeng Bo

    I’ve been meaning to write an App Store entry for some time, but didn’t want to take the abuse such a story would give me. Thanks for taking the hit, Stefano.

    On my end, I think it would help to use a project like Play on Linux to package games in a Steam-like manner. Obviously, only games which run perfectly could be published (a larger list than you would think if you include smaller titles) and they would be shipped with the necessary version of Wine. I think that there are a lot of people who would go for that and Canonical would start making money..

  11. cynicalpsycho

    As long as everything stays open source it’s all gravy, but the minute people start violating the GNU General Public License in the name of capitalism… you’ve totally ruined linux… and it just seems kinda hard to get people to pay for something that they can assemble themselves for free… this just doesn’t seem like a viable business model…

  12. Daeng Bo


    Apt-URL works for repositories you already have, but it won’t help you add new ones. The blueprint means to add that functionality.

  13. Joseph Smidt

    I sure hope this happens. I really, really think this would be a good idea.

  14. anonymous

    For grammar’s sake. Your writing made my eyes bleeeeeeeed.

  15. Zac

    An simple way to install, remove, and update applications. I’m all for it. This is a must.

    Make it happen.

  16. Truth Police

    Linux is all about choice, but the second the choice is extended to proprietary software, people get up in arms. This is ridiculous. You still have a choice between OSS and commercial. If you are so quick to jump to Debian over extending choice, you were never fully invested in Ubuntu in the first place. Go ahead and jump. Its people like you that only take and never give back anyway.

  17. Gareth

    I don’t understand why people would be against an Ubuntu “AppStore” idea. Ubuntu and Linux remains open source but allow developers of non-open source software to sell their apps through something like this and you will see a much larger drive to developing for Linux due to the ease with which new software can be distributed. It is the only reason that the App Store for Apple works so well. App developers can sell their small iPhone software and deliver it to potential customers incredibly easily. Another reason for the success of Steam. And not only would the App Store for Ubuntu be a great success but more application support for Linux means greater attraction to potential end users meaning a greater install base.

    Those out there who believe all things commercial when it comes to Linux are bad are not realists. Developers need to eat! Making it easier for them to make an income from the hard work they put into apps is a GOOD thing. It means more people will want to make software for Ubuntu and Linux in general and therefore drive greater uptake of Linux as an OS.

    And those who feel Linux should remain an elitist OS for people with a technology background don’t seem to realise that Microsoft needs competition in the Desktop OS market for the betterment of ALL PC users. The aim of ANY desktop OS should be to gain market share. Attempts at doing that is not anathema. Grow up!

  18. alexx

    Time to move to Debian…..

  19. Ricardo Ramalho

    Hi all,

    I find this AppStore for Ubuntu idea as an excellent means to reach more and more people. And to make Canonical make some very needed money!

    This can also open the way to some very good proprietary applications to the Linux platform, and they are needed. Using packagekit and other technologies, this can make a good thing for users.

    Just do it!

  20. Dimitris

    I am not sure if this is enough to bring quality commercial software to Ubuntu. I mean, is the distribution chanel the real obstacle for Adobe bringing their tools to Linux? I think not, there are bigger issues like platform instability between releases.

    I like the idea though.

  21. Stefano Forenza

    @Dimitris: well, it’s a chain of events. The more little companies see Linux as a viable market, the more software. The more software, the more users. More users, more interest for people like Adobe to port their tools

  22. mpt

    Thanks for writing about this, Stefano. I led the first UDS session on AppCenter today.

    This is a multi-release project. Our goal is to have a version 1.0 of the application ready to feature in Ubuntu 9.10, but exactly how much it will do remains to be seen. For example, user ratings and reviews almost certainly will not be in 1.0.

    The first mockup you posted was drawn by a community member, based on a sketch of mine, and almost certainly does not reflect the final layout. For example, your suggestion of a welcome screen is spot-on, and is very similar to what we discussed during the session.

    The permalink idea is an excellent one, thanks. I’ve added it to the wiki page.

  23. MadsRH

    About the mockups; the “screenshot” isn’t Canonicalish – I created that one.

    As usual, a fantastic blog post by Stefano Forenza :-)

  24. MKx

    Yes, it would be a good thing to do.

    Imagine a place where you can buy commercial software with ease in Ubuntu.. Like Nero for Linux, Quake Wars… etc.

    I’m sure it will boost commercial software on the platform and encourage more companies to develop for Linux. It may even end up being the Steam of Linux.

  25. Rafael Calsaverini

    Rapid integration with a community tool, like a forum, would be really swell. Are they thinking about it?

  26. Stefano Forenza

    @Rafael: I have no clue. I’m attempting to find the gobby document about the related UDS session, but I couldn’t find that.

    Refer to the link in my post to take a look at the wiki page, that’s currently the best way to interact with them and propose further idea. This is also a good time to make proposals.

  27. Sir Rasheed of the ISA

    This idea has been done (Sort of), I was checking out Linux mint 7 Gloria last night, and saw this type of feature, I do hope the do this in Ubuntu though bc I like Ubuntu so much, dont have the guts to switch to any other Distro… :|

  28. Longbow4u

    I like the idea of an AppCenter for Ubuntu. It would make it easier for commercial developers to sell their wares, e.g. GAMES, to Linux users. Ubuntu has the largest installed base among Linux users. Canonical could charge them a “proprietary software” tax like Apple does, e.g. a 20% to 30% cut on sales price.
    Canonical could then dedicate some of this revenue to develop / donate to strategic Open Source projects or the development of the free Ubuntu / Kubuntu platform. So you as a FOSS user get a warm and fuzzy feeling about buying proprietary apps (in the interest of developing a better free software ecosystem in the long run). Also, this availability of more software could attract more users to Linux, therefore further increasing the developer mindshare of Linux. And if you offer free apps in this AppCenter, you could add prominently a “Donate” button with the possibility of a comment line. So you could combine your feature request with a monetary contribution to the project. And of course, it is a lot simpler to donate as Canonical has already your credit card details or your debit card account permission (as in Germany). With this account, you could keep your paid applications even if you switch /re-install your Operating System.

    Canonical as a trusted Open Source firm has the trust advantage. It could later even sell other services, like server storage space etc. because of existing customer relationship. Please, do it, do it well, and do it fast. And don’t forget Kubuntu. :-)


  29. anon

    A Distro specific App Store promotes further Vendor Lock-In for nontechnical users and savvy user as well, just as Distro specific software repositories do. Having only one source for available software, as in an Apple-like app store, enables virtual dictatorial control over end-users as far as price and availability which is the sweetest of wet-dreams for monopoly wanna-be’s like Mark Shuttleworth who bought his way into Ubuntu’s market share and plays the free software Ubuntu “so-called community” for the suckers they’ve become, and the likewise loathsome control-freak Steve Jobs.
    As much as people hate Microsoft for their abuses, at least users are only locked into the core Windows operating system. Any additional software can be obtained from whomever and wherever they desire, including most/all of the “free” GPL’d GNU software worth mentioning.

    This app-store concept might be working well for adding functions to these mobile gadgets like Apple’s i”everything”, but pushing it to the entirety of any full desktop Operating System with Apple’s dictatorial-type control rubs many people (anyone with a brain) the wrong way, and rightfully so.

    Imagine the repercussions if Microsoft tried to apply the locked-in single-source software repository and locked-in App-Store concept to all available Windows software. Beside being a nightmare because the concept doesn’t scale well for any free apps, and the cries of monopoly and anti competitive behavior and posturing, that kind of control over what software is available is downright scary.

    GNU/Linux will continue to have crap for market share until the software repository model for any software, over and above the core distro, is deprecated and any other software made ultimately standardized to be cross-distro compatible. Though there are some recognizable benefits, adding Distro specific application stores to the current desktop repositories model is just continuing in the wrong direction for people who desire the real choices a truly free market avails.

    As a free (freedom) software advocate, would I recommending Ubuntu or Apple cored products? No! Not now! Not ever!

  30. Dim

    @anon: “pure free software” and “easy to use software” are sometimes contradictory. For you “pure free software” is more important. While for most people (as Ubuntu’s and Apple’s success shows) “easy to use software” is more important than that “freedom”. You’re free to stay with your Debian or something else you have chosen, that’s your freedom. While Canonical and Shuttleworth and Ubuntu users have also their freedom. If I want to buy an app through the App Store, I don’t want to be limited with this. That’s my freedom too.

  31. MKx

    This is doesn’t make sense.
    No sane company that has invested in developing for Linux will limit the end product to one distro. and leave Fedora and other big distributions.
    It’s one mechanism inside Ubuntu for buying software developed for *Linux*. It doesn’t stop you from buying software differently. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the software this way.

  32. Michael

    I think a Linux AppStore would be a great idea. But it doesn’t even have to be Ubuntu specific. Write the app so that it can be customized per distro. The user reviews and ratings don’t depend on the distro or package, so they can be shared across all distros. And if it is open source and customizable, the each distro could put their own branding and organize their repositories on the frontend, and drive the installation through their own package managers on the back end. But the app itself could be standard across the board.

    You’d have to figure out some way to work out the handling of money for purchases and donations. You could have an open source server backend that each distro could run themselves. And you could even have some sort of affiliate program so for example a smaller distro that was based on Ubuntu could use the backend server that Canonical ran, and in return the smaller distro would take a small cut of the sales that went through its distro.

    As long as all the FLOSS software is still available for free as it currently is, and the main software of the distro is FLOSS, I don’t see any problem with introducing a common way for commercial software to be introduced to Linux as well. And if taking cut of commercial sales on their specific distro helps the distros to be financially viable, more power to them.

  33. Commercial Software on Linux

    [...] you anywhere. Or as they say: Live by the sword, die by the sword. Canonical might be working on an “App Store” for Ubuntu, but that is not a prerequisite to successfully sell applications on [...]

  34. Mark

    How is this different from PackageKit? Is Canonical just completely oblivious? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_Invented_Here

  35. mpt

    Mark, even the most basic Web search would have shown you that Ubuntu developers have evaluated PackageKit extensively over the past two years.

    There are at least two important technical differences between AppCenter and PackageKit. One is that AppCenter, like Add/Remove Applications and Synaptic before it, will allow interactive configuration during installation (for example, setting the administrator password for a database when installing it), something the PackageKit developers are determined not to allow. Another is that AppCenter is likely to use debtags heavily for presenting software by category, in a way that would be difficult for PackageKit to do if other packaging systems have no equivalent (or have equivalents that work in different ways).

    It is quite possible that AppCenter will use some code from PackageKit. We are researching that this week.

  36. Sergio

    @ Some of you…

    Do you think big software enterprises are really interested to join the linux OS? Let’s have a look. Nowadays the MOST important barrier to common user to migrate to linux is that he/she’s used to manage apps (mostly paid apps) from Windows or Mac OS, and usually enterprises ask for people who knows about Office, Photoshop, etc, instead of Openoffice, Gimp… If these apps would work well and easily in linux, obviously the linux community might grow dramatically fast. What would happen if 60-70% people use linux? The linux community is the most important open source developing community… How long would it take to all the enterprises with linux installed in their PC be migrating to open source apps? Today in a lot of cases, you have better free soft than its paid equivalent… How long would it take to have better open source games than paid ones? How long would it take to software enterprises to close and disappear?

    In my opinion, the only chance for paid software developers is to keep the BIG community of PC users away from linux.

  37. Stefano Forenza

    @Sergio: I see no way an open source game can compete with Grand Theft Auto 4 or similar stuff. It’s like to say that Creative Commons movies will pwn Warner Bros.

  38. Sergio

    @ Stefano: Maybe, but in the case most people joined linux and with such a big developing software community, I don’t think I would be impossible, even talking about games like Grand Theft Auto. The power of sharing is annoying… And game’s engines in linux are just beginning… In my opinion it’s just a matter of time…

    BTW, great post!

  39. Sergio

    Sorry for my english. where I say “annoying”, I wanted to say “amazing” :o

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