So there’s been a lot of controversy lately about which Linux package manager is better, Apt-get or Yum. This debate has raged on for years, and still no one can give a decisive answer. As that argument is not likely to be resolved soon, let us look at the next best thing: the graphical interfaces for each of these package managers, known as GUI frontends .
Aptitude , GNOME Software Center , Synaptic , KPackageKit , and Muon Discover are some alternatives for package management in Ubuntu. Of these, only Synaptic and Muon Discover will work on other GNU/Linux distributions such as Debian and Fedora (which uses Dnf ). While it’s already possible to use any of these GUI frontends on any popular GNU/Linux distribution, let us focus on Synaptic and GNOME Software Center in particular.
Gnome Software Center provides a graphical way to install software like Libre Office, Spotify, Skype, or Minecraft in Ubuntu. It is an easy-to-use application that can be seen in action in the following video:
Synaptic , on the other hand, allows users to manage repositories (i.e., sources of packages), create repositories if none exist for specific software they need, track updates for installed packages with its ‘Rel’ column, and perform package searches easier via keywords or expression search . Like Gnome Software Center , it too has an easy-to-use interface. The following is a screenshot of Synaptic:
While both Synaptic and GNOME Software Center provide the same functionality, only one of them is available for other GNU/Linux distributions such as Debian and Fedora. That’s right: it’s Synaptic . Seemingly unintuitively, Synaptic is not available in most repositories of Ubuntu (i.e., sources of packages) because it is considered “less user-friendly” than Gnome Software Center by many Ubuntu users and developers. This is ironic considering that most people who consider themselves advanced users would be familiar with package managers such as APT and DNF , but this has been part of the problem behind the controversy surrounding which package manager is better: Apt-get or Yum.
Synaptic’s lack of availability in Ubuntu repositories, however, is not due to any technical limitation. The developers behind Synaptic have simply chosen not to include it in the main repositories that are available in most GNU/Linux distributions. This also entails that there are no packages for other Linux distributions that can be downloaded via Synaptic’s official website .
This could explain why despite being powerful and easy-to-use, only advanced users actually use Synaptic in their day-to-day operations with their GNU/Linux distribution. Most beginners tend to be more familiar with graphical frontends such as GNOME Software Center , which is one of the reasons why it has become popular among novice users.
Yet because experience tends to breed familiarity with commands, it is not unheard of for experienced users who aren’t comfortable with the usual package managers to use both Synaptic and GNOME Software Center together. This means that novices can benefit from the familiarity associated with ease-of-use provided by GUI frontends such as GNOME Software Center , while more experienced users still have their powerful, text-based interface represented by programs such as Synaptic .
While it may be true that using a text-based interface is unfriendly for beginners to GNU/Linux, there are many instances where even advanced users would prefer a GUI frontend . This might be due to unfamiliarity or preference, but either way it signifies a clear advantage in terms of flexibility for developers behind Synaptic compared to those developing GNOME Software Center .
Not only does this mean that users can adopt a piecemeal approach towards learning packages and package management, but it also means that more experienced users have the ability to choose app development platforms such as Unity or KDE , depending on their preference for graphical interfaces. The latter is an advantage because different developers prefer working with specific GUI frameworks, meaning that each frontend can be paired with its own platform leading to greater customization and choice among software consumers.
It’s true: GNOME Software Center provides a more user-friendly interface than Synaptic by using the latter merely as backend (i.e., providing functionality). But other than ease of use, what exactly does GNOME Software Center offer over Synaptic other than both GUI frontends exist side-by-side in the Windows Store? While GNOME Software Center is powerful, perhaps it’s time to focus more on real functionality rather than ease of use. Otherwise, novices might never get to experience the power that GNU/Linux has to offer.