Software installation on Linux

Ian Murdock has an interesting series of posts going on his blog about the current state of software installation on Linux. A few snippets:
After reading through the comments to part 1, let me first point out that our goal is to create a vibrant third party software ecosystem around Linux—you know, like the one Microsoft has built around Windows. No, it’s not about imitating Microsoft. It’s about being competitive. A platform is only as good as the applications that run on it.
Bottom line: Many third parties have built their businesses around proprietary software, and we can’t just ignore them. And “ecosystem” implies decentralized, which I argued in part 1 was a key tenet of open source development anyway, i.e., this should be playing to one of our core strengths. So, if your “solution” is to tell ISVs (independent software vendors) to give us their source code so the distributions can include it because that’s just how we do things, you can safely skip the rest of the post below. You’re simply not going to agree that any of this is a problem.
Ok. Assuming our goal is to create a vibrant third party software ecosystem (and everyone still reading agrees that’s a good goal, right?), we have the following challenges.
First off, we have to understand what ISVs want. The answer is simple: ISVs want to treat Linux as a single platform, which means they want to offer a single package for Linux, much as they do for Windows. So, if one commenter is right that “[t]he problem is that people (including software distributors) believe there’s such [a] thing as ‘Linux’ as a target platform” and that “[i]f you’re distributing software for ‘Linux’ then it won’t be simple to install it, ever”, well, then Linux is destined to suffer the fate of UNIX. I’m not ready to give up so easily.

I agree with much of what Ian says (both what's included in the above blurb and what's not). All too often people have the attitude that if a company wants to have anything to do with Linux they have to do things 100% like an Open Source company. That's an OK attitude to have, but it's not overly realistic and it will relegate Linux to the fringe forever. That's not something I'd like to see happen. ISV's do want a single platform to deploy and certify on, but that's something that almost all Linux people seem to be against. The LSB tries to address the issue while still allowing Linux to be Linux, but I'm still not 100% convinced it will solve all the problems. It is a good start though, and with some work I think it could evolve into a workable solution to the problem (or at least be a piece of that solution). Ian definitely hits it on the head when he says that we have to solve this problem in an evolutionary manner. Companies have way too much invested in the current setups and a from scratch solution just isn't viable. The FSG is launching a Packaging workgroup to continue the discussion and it's an issue I plan on following. This is something that will have a monumental impact on the adoption of Linux, especially on the desktop. For the majority of users it's all about the apps, and getting those apps installed is step number one. This issue certainly touches on one that I've continually mentioned on this blog. What are we willing to give up to gain mainstream adoption? In this particular case, I think we need to let out some slack and bend a bit.
–jeremy
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