Open Ballot: do we need a standard package format?


We all know that "choice is good", but does that extend right the way down to the very fundamentals of our Linux lives? In our next podcast the Open Ballot question is this: should we standardise on a single package format, eg RPM or .deb?

If you haven't participated before, the rules of our Open Ballot are simple: we want you to answer the question with a simple yes or no, backed up with the deep insights and reasoning that led you to your answer. Do users really care about package formats? Would it make much of a difference even if we did have a standard? Please also provide a name other than "Anonymous Penguin", because it sounds silly when read out lots of times. Let us know what you think!

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Your comments


- Advanced users can get by installing/updating using rpm's or deb's (or any other less-known package management). If you can use one, you can learn to use any other in no time at all.

- New or ordinary users use synaptics or whatever "Add/Remove Software" that comes with her/his favourite distro. And don't need to know what's behind it.


absolutely NO!


I feel that some major format would win over a smaller, more efficient one just because most users stick to the popular distros and are only used to their package management, thus favouring it.

And I don't agree with the "Easier for new users" argument. I'm relatively new to Linux and I didn't come here for the "Let's appeal to the masses" mentality. I came here because I can have a choice. And I purposely chose Arch as my first distro to challenge myself to evolve and try harder.

There are just too many things that could be standardised to one format. And there is a reason why there are different formats in the first place - because nobody has come up with the one that'll suit all tastes.

Why don't we just have only vanilla ice cream, I'm sure it'd be simpler to make and easier for people to make their decisions for what flavour to buy.

Is it that horrible?

"- Advanced users can get by installing/updating using rpm's or deb's (or any other less-known package management). If you can use one, you can learn to use any other in no time at all.

- New or ordinary users use synaptics or whatever "Add/Remove Software" that comes with her/his favourite distro. And don't need to know what's behind it."

If advanced users can get by using rpm and deb and ordinary uses and new users have an easier time using deb, why not just use deb. If you can worry that much for the advanced users, why don't you think of the devs that do 8 or more compiles.

It is also ridiculous that a distro specific RPM package cannot be used in another distro using the same type of format. If the changes are good, why not upstream the benefits back to the standard?

Too early to tell...

Linux is a relatively young technology. I think that it is healthy to have competition and freedom. Over time there may be some consolidation or, because of the diversity and tolerance, there may be some incredible innovation...

In any event, why not just kick back, enjoy the choice and the freedom it affords, applaud the efforts of all those amazing people contributing their time and expertise to these projects and watch what unfolds?


I love Linux. I love the freedom associated with Linux. I love it when I am free to do things and accomplish things.

However, I am painfully beginning to see that all the "freedom in Linux" is starting to generate too much chaos and, ironically, *preventing* people from achieving things.

Gee, if people can't agree on standards, how can they avoid trampling over each other? One gazillion distributions, one gazillion package systems, everybody dancing to their own tunes?

C'mon. Let's standardize. File hierarchy. Package systems. Distributions should also follow standards - they should only differ in the set of applications they provide.

I'm getting too disappointed with how things are progressing with Linux. I love Linux and want it to be a winner. But I am starting to see it fighting against itself! That's stupid!


Really the only "standard" is if you compile it yourself (eg. #make && make install) and this doesn't work for all distros purposes nor situations thus the reason why we need packages.

All commercial OSes have their standard format, because of this it makes it much easier for IT groups to manage. Linux is the only one that does not universally. Where Linux really shines is in the IT world, and the more standardized you get the easier it is to manage. On the same note you need the choices that Linux offers, however, the more choices their are the harder it is to pick one or rather the more overwhelmed it can be to choose the "right one" even though they most fill any need you may have.

So to sum it up, we already have some type of standardization however limited to only certain types of distros, rpm and deb. However it would be nice if it was much easier to switch between the 2 ( a.k.a supported across all distros natively).

File system standardization anyone???

What I Don't Get Is...

How is standardization going to end freedom as well as choices. What does having different placements of directories and different packages for each distribution bring?

Even if it doesn't bring you any benefits to have standardization, consider everyone else and not just yourself. If you claim to be part of the free software community, consider everyone else in the community and not just yourself. It doesn't take away freedom in anyway at all. It doesn't even prevent you from doing anything you want to do anyway, so why have fear.


It would be handy to have a system to just point and click and install a program, but I don't really care if a package management is unified for all distro's. I don't think it's all that important.


RPM sucks... DEB forever !


"Distributions should also follow standards - they should only differ in the set of applications they provide." - El Perro Loco

I hope you're being sarcastic, because otherwise this sentence for me sounds like the most narrow-minded thing I have ever heard. Or perhaps I'm misinterpretating, but I hardly believe it to be so.

Everybody should drive cars instead of bicycles, it would be much more simpler for the Road Management to only build roads for cars and not to worry about building safe bicycle routes.
There will definitely be opposition to this proposition, so the standardisation must be thought through very carefully before any action is to be taken.

P.S. I apologise for any grammar mistake I might have made and express my hope that if such standard pkg format should be chosen, it would at least have a new name instead of sticking with the old deb or rpm.


that and many more standards (kernel, x ,etc etc) (in binary level) in order to thrive on the desktop. Sorry freedom-loving distro-hoppers, changing desktop OSes faster than girlfriends is far from healthy :)


@ Anonymous Me (not verified) - May 7, 2009 @ 12:59pm

>>> "Distributions should also follow standards - they should only differ in the set of applications they provide." - El Perro Loco

>>> I hope you're being sarcastic, because otherwise this sentence for me sounds like the most narrow-minded thing I have ever heard. Or perhaps I'm misinterpretating, but I hardly believe it to be so.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. I really think that differences between distributions, besides the application sets, should be really, really, really minor - like wallpapers, for instance. (Of course, the *versions* of the applications can be different, too.) I'm *NOT* saying there should be, for example, only one window manager or one desktop environment! They are also applications running on top of Linux itself. Think about it.

>>> Everybody should drive cars instead of bicycles, it would be much more simpler for the Road Management to only build roads for cars and not to worry about building safe bicycle routes.

That is not a correct analogy. Cars and bicycles are just "different applications", and they should be used according to the transportation needs they are built for. The "road" is Linux (the OS); bicycles, cars, motorcycles, etc., are applications.

>>> There will definitely be opposition to this proposition, so the standardisation must be thought through very carefully before any action is to be taken.

Of course. A standard, theoretically, represents the best solution(s) to a given problem. In order for it to be so, it has to be "thoroughly thought through" (how's that for alliteration :-) ! )

But, anyway, thanks for reading my post and discussing it. That's freedom!

Hm.. Wrong question

That's a huge lots of answer to the question. I'm not sure if The TuxRadar people really reads the answers or not (since I have not seem any replied to any of the comments in their newer posts or magazine articles! *hint hint*)

I apologise that I have not actually read all the replies. Many have their own reasons and some are only teasing and offering sarcastic jokes.

But I feel compelled to voice my thoughts. I think question should not have been "a standard format" but a "standard specification". Everyone should be allowed to do thing differently. You could want your packages to be DEB, and he would love to have his RPM, but I might want mine in simple TGZ/TBZ! However, if there is a standard specification there could be a simple conversion script to install any packages on any system with the minimal information to ensure the stability of the system.

Without a standard specification, people have had trouble installing packages in their system and programmers have trouble deciding what format they want their software to be. Luckily, many brilliant people have realised the problem and written conversion scripts to manage different package formats. Eventually, the question, "do we need a standard package format", is not important any more since the problem leading to the question is solved.

Having said that an open standard specification should still be very useful in the future and should be easy to adopt by any Linux system that already adopts a packaging system.


Saying "no" just for the sake of having the freedom to choose between different package management systems is silly!

Sometimes it is good to have a single way of doing things. It makes it a lot easier, and you don't have to bother users with a choice that in the end doesn't matter anyway. (Your software gets installed, whatever package management system you use).

If there's not going to be a single package management system, then at least there should be tools to easily install packages from different systems on your favorite distro. It would be nice if Ubuntu's Synaptic could for example also automatically handle RPMs and other package formats.

Yes, if something can be

Yes, if something can be made that works for everyone. It certainly makes the distribution of apps that aren't in a repository easier if there's one standard format.

Yes - but not that important

I think other things are more important. For example I hope to see upstart gain more and more traction because it's a great step forwards for Linux as a whole.


LSB says yes too.
All package formats serve the same purpose and they all work (one way or another). Have you ever chosen a given distro just because it had a specific package manager? You might prefer one over another, but as long as they get the job done it is (let's be pragmatic) irrelevant how they do it. The lack of a standard is deterring many companies from porting their software to Linux, making users lack some applications and turn away. Stop reinventing the wheel and spend your time on better projects.


We need a package manager to evolve beyond the others and become a standard!

Easy Software install

One thing your all after is Linux to be the number 1 Operating System which I agree with, but all the NO Geeks are forgetting one thing 80% to 90% of users just want to click on a icon and install or remove the software, they don't as I don't want to be learning programming to use the terminal to install or remove software, As it is the number of Linux distributions are over whelming to say the least

The reason people are staying with windows is it's idiot proof the file names are also idiot proof so the thing is now Linux has got to be made idiot proof. And another thing when it comes to support if a user does not ask a question the right way they get rebuffed by the geeks, I know I have gone through all that with this so called community spirit.

All the geeks forget one major thing, They to had to learn from scratch, they didn't just download Linux and know it inside out, they had to learn it over a long period of time. They didn't learn it in an hour
Linux does need standardizing when it come to installing software, and it would be nice if one could change the file or icon names to something more recognizable

To have just one package

To have just one package manager is anti open source. but it would not hurt to have a translator such as alien. Actually I have no problem with tar.gz. You will not get the world to speak one language. You will not get the world to all cook the same way and no one will always use the same package manager. Besides software is an evolutionary process. I like the fact there are several package managers as they seem to compete with each other to be the best, so everyone benefits.
The more you know! I do not want a simple simon os. It would become obsolete so quickly. It makes linux and bsd so much more interesting to know they have not reached full maturity yet. We have to deal with the growing pains of linux evolution whether we like it or not.

Probably pointless and doesn't change anything

From what I've seen, it wouldn't change anything and the whole package format is a trivial and unimportant matter.

The problem is that apps/libs can be compiled with different options/features, different dependencies, against different version of a lib, different tools or differently configured tools. Which means that if you have let's say package X version 3.1.2 in fedora and debian, it can be completely incompatible, because for example fedora chose to compile it against package Y in version 1.99 which is unavailable in debian, and binary incompatible with the previous 1.80 which is in debian. There are a lot more complicated cases than this primitive example.

This is not a matter of "just because" it's a matter of different goals of the distros. Some value security more so they go with older versions, some need feature xyz so they have to go with a newer version.

There are also problems with where to install stuff, like some distros allow you to install both kde 3.5.x and 4.x but others don't. Also problems with many versions of the same lib installed at the same time and the scripts to manage alternative settings for packages.

These/There are differences that are part of the distro and are important because that distro targets something different than others and the contents of the package simply MUST be different, so a common format would give you:
X-3.1.2_debian_lenny.tgnf (the great new format)
instead of:

you are welcome to adopt

you are welcome to adopt .deb ;-)

also.. wtf is /opt for anyway?

Absolute Linux Distro: Mind blowing.

I have been involved of and on with linux since deb 'potato' and red hat when it was (free 5.2), I also have book 'Special edition Using Linux' now cost about $3.00, then heaps.
I have recently returned to programming micros and operating Linux; in no small fashion, the amount of distor's available is mystifying. As an example I put XP ubuntu and Puppy on a disc no problems. I thought I would have a look at Opensuse 11 ohdear disaster and after many hours of reinstalling everything, i realised then to keep what I have. I have been going through the forums trying to keep abreast of a few issues and it is becoming apparent that people are searching for another OS but if the answer to their questions are not porperly answered then those souls will be lost to linux forever.
Who really cares if they have asked a question in the wrong forum and have copped abuse for it. Anyway deviating a tad. Imagine one system, all answers, few problems and a host of programmers working on one and only one FREE SOFTWARE project.
Linux would be the force that it has the capacity to be.
I am sure there would be many more converts as well as throwing nightmares in to certain other areas.


It would be about time too. Currently we have deb, and rpm, a bunch of different package managers (apt, yum, yast)... AND THEY ALL DO EXACTLY THE SAME THING!!
There is exactly NO advantage to having several package systems. We need a system that can make multi-distro packages a feasible option, standardise file layouts and provide a clear system for estabilishing compatibility (e.g. "this package will work on fedora X, opensuse Y, ubuntu Z")
People have tried to create alternative systems (klik, autopackage) and there are definitely some good ideas to be taken from them especially in terms of making it easy for 3rd party software (which at the moment is a mess of .bins and .runs which lack an established install/uninstal system). Really we need all the best bits from the different systems all put together - i don't understand the technical background but as far as i see the only one with a real advantage for the user is rpm/yast with its one-click-install (i'm surprised the Ubuntu hasn't done something similar, copy pasting PPA addresses is clumsy when a simple app could add them automagically).
Finally, I've seen quite a lot of flaming and bitching about different managers - i think people need to wake up to the fact that AVERAGE PEOPLE DON'T CARE OR WANT TO CARE. I'm a power user but i still don't care if my installers end in .deb or .rpm or if there metadata is stored as X or Y, i want it to work and my life easier.


I think Linux needs to yo go through a culling stage for a couple years and polish up the top five or so distros. With all the input from communities these five distros would very quickly supersede Windows. Then these five can build a common framework to make developing software and drivers for one work on all the others without and repackaging.

Then once this is done encourage the redevelopment of the multitude of distros. Ten years later consolidate the best of all again into a few OS's, polish, consolidate frameworks, rinse and repeat.

I'm pretty sure this wont be a popular opinion but thtas this uber noobs two cents.


Choice is a good thing for developers and users!

Even looking at the Windoze world there are multiple formats; MSI (once required people to go download the MSI installer - how can that be easier than a package manager), exe files that really are only self-extracting zip files - then you have to find where it put the real setup.exe (again isn't package management easier), exe installers with different interfaces, etc. etc. So the argument to standardize because other platforms do isn't really valid. People have learned to manage on other platforms, why is it so hard to change to something that arguably easier? Maybe a lot of it has to do with other peoples opinions; "feels cheap", too many changes at once, "where is the M$-Word" (brand familiarity), etc.

Yes! It helps people convert to Linux

I am trying to convert to Linux, but find the whole thing confusing, at least with windows and macOS it is simple to get going. Beginners like me find it very off putting, and it would be far simpler to have a preferred standard that all the applications can be installed with no difficulty. Other distros may exist, but for rapid take up of the Linux system, one must become the common standard or I feel it will never really compete with windows

YES and ..

AND not only make it universal for Linux software packages but take a ANOTHER step, (just read an article interview with Linus Torvalds talking about Git) make a universal Development Package // somekind of Source Code tar.gz but with lots of desc like IDE, and info for the multitue of Jars and everything. Make Linux more Productive, easier use for everyday computing!!!


What a lot of people forget is that this a huge amount of companies, with different methods of governance. Who is going to tell them all to switch to one standard. Do you think Novell would listen to Canonical? Or Redhat to Novell? There is no single force that could get all linux distros to change. Also why would you want to? Everything is working fairly well. If you start doing required standardization then you are making a step down a dangerous path.


Yes: and it needs a git style distributed tree. This would let any Linux distro install anything from another distro, where there was no clash.

A distro would become an initial install CD + a pointer to the packages that make the distro + some entry points into the distributed tree.

It would be especially nice if the tree were distributed by torrents.

YES for frig sakes!

Yes, we all like choice, but seriously... who cares about the choice of installing a program? WOW! Thrills!

This is one of those topics where the "Linux Geek" is taking things a little far. It isn't the installer program we get off on, it is the program we are trying to install! If you want to get thrills with the installer, you can spend hours alone with it in a bathroom, pervert!

I know I am sounding like I am insulting someone, but I am doing it to make a point. There are some things we need to have as a choice... Distro, GUI, Colours, Programs... but seriously who cares which package type we use, who cares which package manager we use? As long as it works and works well... what difference does it make? Pooling the resources of some things is better then fighting to be the best. Sometimes you can get more done with teamwork then you can being an island.


If installing programs was standardized I would dip my toes into Linux and go. After piddling a day and a half trying learn to get a browser working on Linux it was just not fun. A lot of the help boards were rude to me that I didn't know my way around Linux that well.

I figured out how to do it but, people like my mother would try a Linux distro and go the Linux download site and if the distro didn't recognize the file type she would have me reinstalling Windows the next day.


Something independant of rpm and deb similar to apple's dmg which can both install to the correct place, include additional libraries and add to the repository to make uninstalling and updating easier.

Not doing anthing won't help new users with little technical background from other operating systems, who are not wanting to compile software. Having tried to install a non distro version of firefox, I gave up because of the lack of simplicity to the installation because I don't want to have to open a terminal to compile , prefering to do somthing where i can point and click.

Having a unified package should simplify installing new software and allow companies who don't currently port their windows and mac osx to develop linux vesions of software without having to develop several versions and also simplify the writing and coding of software that is written for linux, as well as expanding software as currently where there is an rpm version there may not be a deb version.

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