Over the years, Linux has made impressive strides towards being friendlier to new and non-technical users. One of the more common efforts is the creation of graphical software centers. Imagine what a boost having something akin to the Play Store would be on Linux. It’s a great idea, but do the GNOME and KDE Plasma actually pull it off?
KDE’s Plasma desktop is a well-established powerhouse that’s still very friendly for new users. You can customize everything, but you don’t necessarily have to customize anything. The Plasma interface that you get from a fresh install should look and feel very familiar to Windows users, so the transition isn’t a jarring one.
Plasma also includes truckloads of modern conveniences. It even integrates with your Android phone to send and receive text messages. It stands to reason that Plasma’s Discover software center should be just as friendly and intuitive, right?
Before getting too far in, you can probably see where this is going. Discover is a well-intentioned trainwreck right now. Even testing on the latest release of Neon, KDE’s official Ubuntu-based distro, resulted in poor performance and strange results.
It’s clear that the KDE team knows where they want to go with Discover and have the right idea, but the execution just isn’t mature enough yet. The navigation menu isn’t the easiest thing to use, and could easily swamp new users. They did include the option to add and remove software sources from the search, but it’s hard to tell if it’s working when the search function doesn’t even give accurate results for packages in the main repositories. In searching for Steam, something many new Linux users would look for, Discover not only failed to find Steam, the application crashed while performing the search. To make matters even worse, Steam was already installed on the system during the test. It definitely was in the repositories.
In short, Plasma Discover may be good in the future, but it’s not ready for mainstream use just yet.
With Canonical’s plans to transition Ubuntu over to the GNOME desktop came a migration from Ubuntu’s own software center to the default GNOME one. GNOME’s software center has been part of distributions like Fedora for a long time, but Ubuntu’s switch has really put it in the spotlight.
GNOME Software has a much friendlier and more graphical interface. It features a splash screen with recommendations and content similar to the likes of Google Play. Its categories are fairly responsive and accurate. The category listings are lacking some elements like user rating that would help new users distinguish between popular top-quality applications and less developed ones.
The search function of GNOME software tested both fast and accurate. There was no problem finding Steam with a quick search. It was also able to locate software from external repositories without incident.
There isn’t a very simple way to add new software sources to it just yet, but it’s not that hard as of now and may get simpler in the future.
Are They Any Good?
There’s not a single answer to whether or not graphical software centers are “good” on Linux right now. There is no option that’s as powerful as the command line, and there probably never will be.
Neither GNOME or KDE has the option to install system components and libraries through their software centers. They only handle applications. Neither had an application rating either, something new users would be looking for.
If you’re new to Linux and want a graphical software center, GNOME is going to be the better bet. Install the latest Ubuntu release, and you’ll already have it. It’ll give you a great way to browse the software available in the default repositories on your system. Just don’t expect to manage your whole system through it just yet. For those who are more familiar with their Linux system, you might want to stick with a package manager, like Synaptics or Pacmac, or just manage the installation from the command line.