Does Ubuntu Need More “Apps”?
These days, it often feels like an operating system is only as cool as its “apps” — which are separate from applications, mind you. And so it’s not surprising to see Canonical pushing hard to deliver more apps to Ubuntu users, an effort highlighted most recently by the upcoming AppsSprint. Yet is Canonical, promoter of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, catering to real demand among users, or simply following hype? Here are some thoughts.
As Canonical developer Daniel Holbach explains in a recent blog post, the Ubuntu community draws strict distinctions in technical terms between traditional application packages and those for apps. They install into different locations and undergo a different review process before reaching official Ubuntu distribution channels.
Yet what separates an Ubuntu application from an app in layman’s terms remains somewhat less clear. According to the Ubuntu wiki, apps are “lightweight applications,” and can be distributed for free or for a price. But “lightweight” is a relatively ambiguous descriptor, of course, and undoubtedly many software programs could fall into either the app or application category.
For the time being, however, Canonical appears less concerned with the nuances of app definitions, and more eager simply to encourage third-party developers to submit software that can be called apps. The AppsSprint, to be held from July 2 through 4, is part of that endeavor, and promises to help smooth over some of the challenges which currently make the app submission process less ideal than it could be.
Ubuntu developers also recently instituted the Ubuntu App Review Contributors team in order to encourage more volunteers to help process apps submitted for inclusion in the Ubuntu repositories. Their help is needed since, according to Holbach, a large number of apps are currently waiting in line to be reviewed without sufficient manpower at the moment to process them.
Apps vs. Applications, and Does It Matter?
Canonical’s efforts to encourage more third-party contributions, in whatever form they take, to Ubuntu’s already massive software repositories won’t hurt anyone. Having more software available is always a good thing. I wonder, though, if the particular efforts being devoted to these vaguely defined entities called apps might reflect Ubuntu developers’ eagerness to conform to hype rather than address real demand among users.
As cool as it is to have lots of things that one can call an app, Ubuntu’s packaging and software-distribution system has always worked just fine for me the way it is. Adding a new branch dedicated to apps seems like it could complicate the lives of developers and possibly confuse users, few of whom would be likely to understand the difference between an app and a traditional application even if Canonical provided a clearer definition — which it currently does not.
And in any case, Ubuntu, at least for now, remains a pretty traditional operating system. True, sooner or later, if Canonical has its way, Ubuntu may be powering phones, tablets and TVs. But until that happens, a majority of desktop Ubuntu users are going to be running the platform on traditional PCs. In those conditions, it makes less sense to build a sub-ecosystem around apps, which are typically associated mostly closely with more novel hardware devices.
Granted, maybe I’m just afraid of the future and change. (I still haven’t broken down and bought a tablet, which probably makes me a Luddite by comparison to most techies.) But I like Ubuntu the way it is, and I’d be sad to see resources spread too thinly in the interest of creating apps just for the sake of fitting in.