Free desktop application distribution and installation

Thomas Kluyver thomas at
Tue Dec 16 14:09:08 PST 2014

On 16 December 2014 at 13:06, Matthias Klumpp <matthias at> wrote:

> so you would force the app
> author to write a huge metadata file

As I see it, many app authors are already figuring out the necessary
metadata for different distros, whether they scatter it around in packaging
files for different systems, or write it in human readable form in their
docs ("...on Ubuntu, apt-get install blah..."). So I'm thinking of a way to
store that information in a standardised, machine readable format so
dependencies will install programmatically. There would also be a natural
language fallback, so if the user's distro is not recognised, they will see
a message that they should ensure X & Y are installed. I imagine most
applications would start with automatic dependency installation for only a
couple of popular distros, and as they became more widely known, users of
minor distros would contribute the metadata to deal with dependencies

I think there's a philosophical difference in our approaches. You are
trying to rethink application installation from the ground up. I'm very
glad that someone is doing that, but I'm personally thinking about how to
incrementally improve one of the common ways to distribute applications at
present. This is not quite what I suggested in my first email, but my
thinking has evolved during this discussion. This shift is partly because
I've seen that projects like Listaller and 0install have already tried
something much closer to my initial proposal, and do not seem to have got
much traction (as in, I haven't seen applications recommending installation
using such tools). I suspect that, whatever the technical merits of new
installer systems, getting adoption is very hard because of the catch 22 -
application authors have little incentive to use it until there are many
users, and users have little incentive to use it until there are many
applications installable with it.


Further thinking:
>From my brief, informal survey of application websites, they seem to fall
into three main categories:

1. The good open source citizens - a list of instructions for different
distros, often with a weary message that distro packages tend to be out of
date, and not uncommonly mixed in with instructions on compiling it
yourself. 'Conversion rate' is a foreign term. E.g. 0AD, Battle for
Wesnoth, Amarok. Sometimes they even skip the specific instructions and
just tell you to install from your distro (e.g. Meld, Gnumeric).
2. The cross platform application - a download button points to a tarball.
The user is expected to deal with extracting it, finding the extracted
files, and working out which one to click on (peanuts for an experienced
user, but this sort of friction can be offputting for newcomers). E.g.
Firefox, Zotero, Pycharm, Eclipse.
3. Big enough to do it ourselves - Builds packages for different distros
and hosts them themselves. Probably the best user experience (if your
distro is supported), but a lot more work for developers. It usually still
requires the user to select 32-/64-bit and deb/rpm (two decisions which may
not be apparent to non-expert users). E.g. Google Earth & Chrome, Skype,
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the xdg mailing list