There was a ton of great feedback to my column last week, where I dreamed up (blabbed out loud) the idea of a Windows-based application store for open-source downloads. For the Linux layman, this would be something like a wicked hybrid of iTunes and apt-get. A package manager featuring pretty icons, one-click downloads, descriptions, and community interaction that could help bring the open source world just one step closer to the hearts and minds of average computer users.
As it turns out, a number of package managers already exist for the Windows operating system. In theory, they provide you the convenience of being able to hunt down a number of open-source projects, categorized by operation, which you can install without having to pore over the Web for the right file. Beyond that, they also give you a way to learn about newer open source projects that you might not have heard about or seen by your casual browsing on SourceForge. But are these applications as glorious as my dream from last week? Are these applications even worth your time at all?
Unlike typical open-source roundups, where I recommend five awesome programs that you. must. have. I'm actually going to give you the pros and cons of a series of five different package managers so you can decide for yourself as to which one would best fit your PC habits. So without further ado, I present: Windows Package Managers.
What it does: It's not DOA, but WinLibre is definitely a package manager that's on its dying legs. But you wouldn't think that by the activity on the Web site. Heck, WinLibre has even become a mentoring organization for this year's big Google "Summer of Code" programming binge. Don't let that fool you, however. WinLibre itself draws from a small list of outdated software (we're talking Firefox 1.0 here), more than half of which return 404 File Not Found errors. Average execution, horrible management -- were there only a way to flag incorrect entries and/or contribute new links to the database without WinLibre calling the shots. Epic fail.
What it does: This program doesn't work in Windows XP. I'll just get that out of the way first so you don't spend an hour trying to troubleshoot the continual program crashes, as I did. Fire this sucker up in Vista, however, and you'll be treated to a pretty comprehensive list of applications across more than ten categories of use. That's a great start for this (admittedly) beta application. What's not-so-great is the follow-through. For starters, the application still links to older versions of programs--like Gimp version 2.2.17 instead of the more recent 2.6.6 release. Firefox? Still on version 126.96.36.199. That's quite a gap. Secondly, the package manager doesn't even install any programs for you. It creates a huge list of categorical folders in the download directory you select, then dumps the installation executables for whatever programs you choose to download into these folders. That's it. Eh.
What it does: I was so excited for AppSnap. Catchy name? Check. Comprehensive list of applications, more than any other package installer application reviewed thus far? Check. Updated link to main download page for all applications? Check. The program seemed to work. The program seemed to deliver updated links to popular programs. The program... utterly failed to download anything I selected. A total letdown, but AppSnap should be thought of more as a "guide" to new programs you can download rather than an actual downloading utility. While the giant list and official homepage links helped me eventually navigate to the files I wanted, there's no way this program will actually download or install the applications for you.
(Get a list of programs when you) Download it here!
What it does: It's a little kludgy (and was slow as heck for me), but GetIt fulfills the two main criteria for a successful package manager. One: It contains a comprehensive list of open-source and freeware applications for the taking. Two: Selecting a program and clicking "download" actually pulls down a recent version of the application. While I'd love to see more (or any) descriptions about the programs featured in this helpful package manager, at least the darn program works... for the most part. Expect to see 404 "File Not Found" errors littered throughout this application. But hey--at least it gets the right version of Firefox, eh?
What it does: It works. This command-line based package manager is like combining the thrill of application installation with the insanity of shooting at a set of targets in the dark. To download and install applications, you append the name of the application in question to the end of a command-line prompt. Is there a comprehensive list you can refer to in regards to the programs that Win-Get can acquire? No. Can you update the program with a catalog of your own, listing the exact URLs for a specific group of applications you want to install? Yes. Do I know how to do that? No. Win-Get is home to powerful functionality, but no ease-of-use whatsoever.
As the roundup might suggest, there just aren't any foolproof package managers for the Windows operating system nowadays. At least, there aren't any that I could find. If I've completely missed the best package manager out there -- or if you've uncovered the tiniest of rocks and found one that actually works -- please let me know. I'll profile the application next week and you'll get major shout-outs / street-cred / hugs.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter for the latest in computer geekery and/or app-chat! Recommend free programs of any variety or suggest awesome ideas for future roundups you want me to run. I only say no to truly horrible ideas. See you next week!