Smart Package Management: The Solution I’ve Been Looking For?

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Entered as Exhibit A in the case of Analyst vs Information Overload is this little gem. While I like to consider myself fairly well connected and up to date on the latest in open source, I somehow managed to miss a project aimed squarely at one of my personal pet peeves – fragmented, and therefore incompatible, Linux package management solutions.

Fortunately for me, Ubuntu’s Jeff Waugh (a Friend of RedMonk) was kind enough to remedy (and not laugh at) my ignorance on the subject, giving me a quick rundown on the project. Smart Package Manager is a project that grew out of Connectiva/Mandriva, that is designed to alleviate what I believe to be one the more pressing concerns for Linux distributions today. While I have yet to test it – maybe tomorrow – it’s designed to allow users to leverage a variety of distro application repositories. Smart Package Manager users can, in theory, install applications from Debian, Mandriva, Novell, Red Hat or Slackware repositories.

This, in my humble opinion anyhow, is potentially a Very Big Deal. I’ve tried, mostly in vain, to impress on upon a variety of Linux players the redundancy implicit in the current package management approach, in which each Linux distro manages packages differently (and incompatibly). The first time I really heard any significant interest in the subject was back at LWE/Boston, when a number of parties expressed their dissatisfaction with the current package management landscape. For all that, however, no one had a realistic solution given the political (not technical) obstacles.

Smart Package Manager, however, may represent a technical solution to a political problem. Rather than having to have some independent standard, such as the LSB, attempt to tackle this problem through brute force consensus building, Smart may allow users to become library agnostic. Which distribution had the foresight to pick up Gustavo? Ubuntu, not too surprisingly. Consider that an Exhibit in the case for Ubuntu.

I’ll have more when I’ve been able to install and test Smart, but if you’re interested in Linux distributions I highly suggest you check it out.


  1. Personally I don’t expect Linux packaging issues to get resolved anytime soon. Even the Linux Standard Base punted on it, I believe.

    You’re probably already aware of alien, a tool that “that converts between the rpm, dpkg, stampede slp, and slackware tgz file formats”.

    I’m using mostly .deb based stuff now with Ubuntu, but rarely think about it thanks to apt and apt-get.


  2. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m still not seeing what Smart does that Red Carpet didn’t do in 2001. Definitely great stuff (again), and I’m glad someone is doing it (again), but it doesn’t seem terribly revolutionary to me. But again, maybe I’m missing something.

  3. DeWitt: you may be right. certainly i’ve had little success in the past galvanizing interest in the topic – most everybody punted. but i do think that with the addition of Ian, the LSB may be taking a more active look at that particular problem. speculation on my part, but he at least grasps the problem intimately. plus, i think economically we’ll begin to see pressure to solve the problem from ISVs, b/c support is becoming a bigger issue.

    i had seen alien in the past, but it’s sort of perma-alpha nature scared me off. good mention, however.

    as for the .deb point, i agree. i rarely think about it, because Gentoo’s library is big enough that there’s very little i can’t get (pymenu was the last thing i remember) via Portage. but it does seem pointless to me to have people from Debian, Gentoo, et al solving precisely the same problem. whether it’ll get solved is a good question, however.

    Luis: although i’ve used Red Carpet in the past with some SuSE distributions, i must admit that if it had the breadth of library support that Smart does i was unaware of it, and have certainly never leveraged that. my bad, i guess.

    in any event, i’m happy to have something less complicated than Zenworks to rally around, because the problem is (IMO) significant.

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