"One of the biggest complaints I hear," writes Kevin Carmony, CEO of Linspire, in his Linspire Letter to the community, "from [Microsoft] Windows and Mac users about Linux, is that there are too many distributions, each with their own installation system." He reasons that the time it takes between locating an application and installing it scares away average desktop users. "With desktop Linux, you must first find the program, if it's even supported to begin with, then hope they've provided the right files and installation process for 'your' particular Linux distribution. (.deb files, .rpm files, .tar.gz files etc.). It's all far too complicated for the average person, and it's no wonder they shy away from Linux."
Of course, several other popular distributions have their own CNR-like solutions. For example, Ubuntu has Synaptic and Fedora has Pirut, both of which can find and install applications and resolve dependencies. But as users who constantly shuttle between these distributions know, finding one application in one distribution doesn't necessarily mean finding it under another as well. This is where the new CNR plugin will benefit users. By making CNR available to users of other distributions, Linspire will offer a common mechanism for installing software across .deb and .rpm-based distributions.
"The CNR plugin is an independent package management application that works with the CNR.com Web site," explains Aurelia Negrerie, marketing programs manager at Linspire. The plugin will be available as open source, though Negrerie didn't say under which license.
"When fully launched, CNR.com will house a completely improved CNR Warehouse," Carmony writes. "Other distributions will be able to download the necessary 'plugin' for their particular distribution to enable one-click installation from CNR.com."
On the interoperability of the tool with a distributions's existing tools, such as Synaptic for Ubuntu, Negrerie says, "Due to the open source nature of this tool and service, Synaptic could be altered to work with CNR.com."
She also says that most Linux distributions "were very excited" about the prospect of having one central location for Linux users to find and install software, regardless of distribution. "In the future, we will make public some of these relationships, as most have been helpful and participated in bringing CNR.com support to their systems."
Debian reception lukewarm
Speaking for the Debian project, Martin 'Joey' Schulze, a Core Debian Developer, says that while the Debian project welcomes cooperation with external entities and ideas for improvements, "In this case [of CNR] they shouldn't be needed." He says that while he hasn't has the chance to look at the details of how CNR will work across distributions, the Debian project would appreciate if the technology were made Free. "The Debian project endorses the use of Free Software and is making all of its code Free as well. Once it becomes Free, it could even be included directly into the Debian distribution and, hence, its derivatives."
Schulze believes that the existing Debian package management system should not be affected at all by CNR. "It will probably make use of the existing information in order to decide what's needed when new packages are to be installed. Debian's package maintenance system offers several possibilities to properly integrate packages not yet available in a particular distribution. I'd like to name backports.org, rpmseek.com, and apt pinning as sample keywords. I would assume that Linspire is making use of these."
Negrerie says, "If the user installs using APT from the same repository they use with CNR, then there will not be a problem. If they install from different repositories, there will inevitably be dependency problems, but that is not isolated to CNR -- rather that is true no matter what package management system you use. What we are doing is providing a tool that will work the same across distributions so that you don't have to hunt around for all your packages or use several different tools."
Developers wanting to distribute their packages through the new CNR system will have to sign up to Linspire's publisher program, which will allow them to upload their product. Negrerie says the basic CNR service will be available free of charge, but Linspire will offer optional commercial software and services to make money. "The CNR Gold Service is currently $49.95 and one of its benefits is steep discounts on commercial Linux software."
It will be interesting to see how CNR plays with the existing distribution-specific solutions and whether Linspire will be able to keep up with the constant flow of updated open source software releases. The new CNR warehouse and plugin will be available in the second quarter of this year; Negrerie says that more specific dates will be announced in the near future.