Categories
Computers

App Stores

In which I discuss App Stores.

You know. I used to think app stores were neat. It was a novel concept coming from Windows or Mac where you basically had to hunt down applications to install and configure yourself. Only the largest of companies had real collections of anything. Even ancient Linux systems had dependency hell that made the idea of a store an appealing idea.

Then, you know, we fixed that. RPM, Debian, et al just fixed the problem with dependencies and now you just say:

$ yum install firefox # RPM
$ apt install firefox-esr # Debian
$ pacman -Syu firefox # Arch Linux
# Etc..

And within a few minutes, Firefox and all it’s dependencies are installed, configured and ready to be launched. These app stores that Apple and Microsoft hawk are pale imitations of this system. They tout that they’re sandboxing applications (something the system should already do, like AppArmor, et al) from these stores and they’re reviewed/vetted. The problem is, they’re just repackaging the already shitty app discovery/dependency experience and saying: “Here, all the crap that you need to run, no matter how old or twisted it is, put it in this box with your application and run it from there”. This isn’t a solution, just shifting the focus.

It seems that some people believe that this idea would be great on Linux, too. AppImages, Flatpaks and all sorts of containerized systems popping up to “simplify” the Linux install experience. Oddly enough, it does just what the big kids do, ignore the base system and shove everything into a box until it runs. Fuck disk space, fuck bandwidth, fuck security updates and comparability or integration. Does it run? Good, ship it.

It almost seems like they’ve missed the point of the whole package management system. It would seem that way, but they’re too smart to have just “missed” the underlying system that bootstraps literally the entire system into existence, libraries and all.

No, I imagine what they’ve done is willfully ignored it because packaging is hard. It is. No two ways around that. If you want your app in one of those systems, you have to package it and make sure it works. Either that or help the package maintainers do that. It sucks because a lot of systems are more byzantine than they have any right to be. That is something we could address.

Instead, I think the idea is to get proprietary software to a point where companies don’t have to rely on trusted packagers (who are probably somewhat agnostic or hostile to them) or having to do the work themselves. They just wrap the whole mess up in a FlatPak or AppImage and they’re off to the races.

Elementary OS seems to think that App Stores are a great idea, too. They’re even revamping theirs so that “Linux developers can get paid”.

Let me just pick that apart for a minute:

  • How are they not able to get paid? Were they somehow prohibited in previous iterations of the App Store?
  • Are open source (not Linux…) developers somehow prohibited from setting up donation boxes like Librepay, Paypal or literally any of the other pay for stuff services?
  • If app developers, through this store, are allowed to get paid… are they allowed to restrict users from installing the software without paying for it?
    • This breaks open source/free-software
  • How are you going to moderate this store from going the way of every other App Store where thousands of pieces of barely compiling crap with pretty icons get shoved up to the top with paid advertising or bot-farm reviews? Have you somehow solved this problem?

I have no problem paying open source developers, or rather, donating to them. I do it all the time. Projects I use regularly or need, I give money to. I just don’t see how an App Store is somehow going to fix this in ways that aren’t already possible, without somehow turning it into a shitshow of shovelware and trashy apps.

Linux doesn’t need App Stores. It already has them in the form of package management. There are even nice interfaces through Discover and Gnome’s “Software”. This is a solved problem. So why are we reinventing it?

I’m probably a curmudgeon, but this seems a solution in search of a problem.

By Nathan

Hello! My name is Nathan and I'm a technologist living and working in the south east. I love breaking crap and fixing it. I tend to break more than I fix. When I'm not breaking and fixing stuff, I'm playing games with my son or going to Disney with my family. I strongly support open source software, hardware and greater transparency in government.