For the past couple of Ubuntu releases (10.04 and 10.10), Canonical and the Ubuntu community has really been adding features to the Ubuntu Software Center. Previously in Ubuntu, when you wanted to add an application to your system, you’d go to the Terminal and type in your package management commands, or else use Synaptic, which is a fantastic program (I usually have it installed on Kubuntu as well as vanilla Ubuntu installations), but not overly user-friendly, regardless of how powerful it is. Kubuntu, which uses KDE, hasn’t been blessed to have the Ubuntu Software Center installed, however. You can install it, and it works fine, but takes up a lot of space, as installing it requires a lot of GNOME libraries that KDE wouldn’t otherwise use. Kubuntu does have KPackageKit, however, and the more I use it, the less I miss the Ubuntu Software Center.
First, there are a few thing missing from KPackageKit that the Ubuntu Software Center has. First is the purchase software feature. Although very young, Ubuntu Software Center recently saw the addition of a paid applications section. While most Linux applications are free, a few are not. I’ve talked about some of these in the past, notably the multimedia offerings from Fluendo (a Linux DVD Player and complete media playback codecs). It’s a nice option to have, even if you never use it; some people will. KPackageKit doesn’t have this ability. Another feature missing is the Featured Applications and New Applications options Ubuntu Software Center users have. These are nice as well, as they show programs you might want to take a look at but hadn’t, because they were buried in the roughly 20,000 other packages available for Ubuntu.
But KPackageKit, in spite of what’s missing, still has a ton to offer Kubuntu and KDE users.
For one, it has easy access to your history of changes. You can click the History list (from the Get and Remove Software pane), to see exactly what you’ve done recently, as far as adding or deleting programs. You can browse through lists of all available programs, or filter it by what you have installed or what is not installed. This is nice for those times when you’re trying to delete a program but don’t remember exactly what it’s called. Since the packages you have installed is smaller than the number of available packages, being able to see only what’s installed makes this an easier process, as does being able to search through package lists. Similarly, being able to view only what isn’t installed is nice if you’re browsing for something new to install.
If you’re looking for a particular kind of program, like a music player or word processor or graphics editor, KPackageKit is useful. You can click one of 12 categories of program, then filter that even further once the list has loaded, by using one of the subcategories. For instance, if you were looking for a new web browser, you’d simply click the Internet category, then do a quick search for “browser” (or whatever you’re looking for). By hovering over an entry, you’ll see either a Remove or Install option appear (depending on whether or not the particular program is already installed).
But sometimes you want a little more information. Double-click on an entry and a sub-panel will cover half the list, with all kinds of information about the program you’re looking at. You can read a blurb about it, look at all the program necessary in order to install it, and whether or not the program is required by other programs. You can view a screenshot of the program as well, and when you’re ready to install, go back to the list and click the install button. The installation doesn’t happen immediately, however, but adds that program to the list of programs you’re planning on installing or removing. When you’re ready, just click the Apply button and KPackageKit goes to work.
Beyond manually adding and removing programs, however, KPackageKit is one of the ways you can update your system. Simply click on the Software Updates and you’ll see a list of anything that can be updated. If nothing appears, but it’s been a while since you’ve used KPackageKit, just click the Check For New Updates link and KPackageKit will update the package lists for all your software repositories.
Speaking of repositories, KPackageKit also offers fast access to any new or unofficial repositories (or PPAs), you might have installed. You can add new ones, edit old ones, and configure how often KPackageKit checks for updates. It’s a handy, one-stop place for all your package management needs.
To be honest, when I switched from Ubuntu to Kubuntu, I thought about installing Ubuntu Software Center, even though it’s absolutely designed for GNOME and not KDE. But after using KPackageKit a couple times, I realized how useful it is. It’s kind of slow, both the interface and updating package lists, but for someone who’s maybe a little afraid of the Terminal or doesn’t know exactly what a program might be called, it’s a good choice.