Picking Linux software made easy

February 05, 2009 7:25 PM EST
In a recent story, my fellow scribe Preston Gralla wrote, "If Linux has an Achilles heel, from the point of view of a Windows user, it's installing new software." Now, he's seen the error of his ways about that, but he also noted that, "I was rewarded with a long list of recommended updates -- and what they were, or were used for, is anyone's guess. For example, ... alacarte: easy GNOME menu editing tool. ... " His point was that he didn't have a clue what this program might be.

He's got a point there: A really big nasty one. I, and if you're a regular reader of my Linux stories, know what alacarte is, or at least can figure it out after one glance at the description. But, really can we expect anyone who doesn't know Linux to know what it is? I don't think so. Or, for that matter, what GIMP, open-source's answer to Adobe Photoshop, is?

When we live with any technology, we start taking for granted knowledge that we have that's a foreign language to others. So, while package manager programs -- that's software installation programs for the non-Linux using members of the audience -- like YaST, Synaptic, and PackageKit make installing software easy, they don't give new Linux users much of a clue what it is they're installing.

That's where ASUS' service for installing software on its Xandros Linux-powered netbooks comes in. Eee Download gives users an easy to use interface where they can track down the software they want by category. So, for instance, under the menu choice Software/Internet/Browsing & E-Mail, you'll find the Opera Web browser and the Novell Evolution groupware program. If you know anything about computing, you can use this site to find the software you need.

Then, you simply click on the install button and in a few minutes, you've got your new program. Not only that, but because of how you found the program you know exactly what it is you've just installed.

In addition, and I've never seen this presented quite this way in any other system, the ASUS site also introduces Eee netbook users to useful Web sites. So, for example, under Software/Internet/Social Networking, you'll find links to Facebook, Live Journal and the like. Useful for an experienced computer user? No, not really. Useful for someone who's new to all this? Yes, I think so.

What's powered this site is actually software that's been cooking for years: Linspire's CNR (Click'N'Run). Xandros bought Linspire last summer and this is the first fruit of that purchase. Xandros will eventually introduce CNR for its own distribution with its next release: Xandros 5.

When ASUS first introduced CNR to its Eee users this summer it, frankly, didn't work. Period. End of statement. In October, ASUS and Xandros finally got it right. Recently, this service moved from a soft launch to going public.

Now, for old Linux hands, there's really nothing here that's interesting. But, Linux isn't just for people who know it well. With the advent of netbooks and SplashTop instant-on desktop Linux, and a flood of new users, I welcome advances like this one. We need more programs like CNR that make it not just easy for new users to install software, but easy for them to find the software they need and want to install.