In his piece announcing Drizzle, MySQL’s Brian Aker had the following to say about Canonical’s Launchpad platform, saying:
Launchpad has turned out to be pretty awesome. You should be thinking about using it. Do not get caught up in the git vs bzr vs hg debate. It is not about the tool, think iPod/iTunes. It is about the infrastructure around it.
Which was appropriate, as the project itself was being hosted there. High profile though Drizzle may be, however, its choice of infrastructure by itself would not be that noteworthy except for the fact that it’s one of a number of projects doing the same.
Just on my own installation of Ubuntu, I’m using Launchpad builds of the following:
- Google Gadgets
- GNOME Do
- Thinkpad Fan Control
- Thinkpad X300 Audio
Notice that these are not Canonical projects, but third party efforts. Notice too that they have little to nothing in common. And yet all are hosted on and served to me via Launchpad. In the past, these would have been hosted at repositories outside the Ubuntu ecosystem; the developer’s own site, perhaps, or maybe Sourceforge. Now, however, the trending is towards hosting over at Launchpad.
The reasons for this vary, and Ubuntu is far from the only distribution seeing this type of activity: Gentoo’s overlays have become the norm rather than the exception they were when I was running that distro full time.
What this points to, I think, besides an increased willingness to fork cited by Brian at OSCON and that I’ll talk about later, is the next evolution of Linux package management systems.
Package management, a subject I’ve discussed many times before, is magic in the Arthur C Clarke sense of the word as opposed to, oh, the Harry Potter. The first time you see it, you’re likely to be shocked because none of the commercially available operating systems today have an equivalent. Tim Bray’s reaction, in fact, is unprintable in this family friendly space, so positive was he on apt. And yet the differentiation package management permits is massively underleveraged. Here’s how I put it in March of 2007:
Despite this seemingly impressive feature, you’ll rarely if ever hear this touted by Linux advocates; perhaps they simply take it for granted given that many if not most Linux admins have never known a distro without it. As a result, my recommendations that Linux distributions press their advantage in this area by leveraging existing infrastructures to connect to both commercial and community oriented repositories more or less fell on deaf ears.
To be sure, Launchpad isn’t the solution to the inexplicable lack of attention paid to package management. But what it can do is evolve the feature to incorporate more third party applications, whether they’re built by Joe Developer or Google.
Which makes it worth watching, IMO.