Proposal: Replace pamac with GNOME Software on GNOME Edition

I've been thinking many things related to Pamac for some time, and finally pushed to post my thoughts due to recent events.

Super fast context: at home we are Arch+derivatives users: me running Parabola/Arch/Manjaro and others running Manjaro only. Those who run Manjaro only happen to not know anything about computers (nothing wrong with this). We all run the vanilla GNOME desktop (no extensions or theming).

Recently had my parents hooked on a "Checking conflicts" for too long during a Pamac update.
This worries me, as it made GNU/Linux look yet again seem like a "hacky unstable OS", uncomfortable for them to use. The truth is, the background process is not the problem (it would happen in the terminal as well), but it is how it was displayed to users.

The problem here I think is not Pamac design alone, but the existence of Pamac, as I will describe in this longer post:

Pamac problems

Pamac is too verbose and convoluted, even possibly scary to complete beginner. On the other hand, Pamac is too "clicky" for power users (plus insert all reasons power users tend to prefer the terminal). Pamac users can very much use GNOME software if they wish to use a GUI, or jump into CLI/pacman if they want to learn more. The middle option sounds good, but doesn't seem to fit any practical case, apart from installing many packages at the same time or accessing the AUR (more on that later).

Another problem which I don't know if is still present is that Pamac relied on an extension to show the user whether updates were available. While there were no updates, the icon would remain visible, while offering no information. This is a step down from GNOME software notification system in which just a system notification is used: clean, informative, and without the use of extra tools.

GNOME Software problems

It boils down to two problems:
One is that it consumes system resources, varying from 150 MB of RAM to almost 500 MB. The other one is that it doesn't have AUR support.

The thing with this is that GNOME desktop already implies more modern hardware for the normal user, and their developers don't hide it. There is the exception if you know what you're doing, but I'm leaving this case aside.

Also this might be just coincidental, but I usually have to remove the updates notifier extension from the top bar as I get the comment "Why is my desktop full of -things- ?" (just n=3).
This means that to get notifications from updates in way they can easily click, use and understand, I need to have running GNOME software. Plus if I want to give AUR support to the novice user, I need Pamac running as well.

UX comparison

I have requested people to install software in their Manjaro machine, leaving them the option to use "the bag app" (GNOME software) or "the boxes app" (Pamac).
In all cases (n=2), GNOME Software was preferred because it follows a familiar and good paradigm: you see you "app storefront" and choose from there or search for something, and install it.
Also you can see what's installed and if there are updates from well defined sections.

Compare to Pamac presentation mix of installed and available packages.
If you click them to install, they don't, the interface displays there is an "operation" and you have to "apply a transaction".
Again, I'm discussing on the grounds that Pamac is shipped as the default installation tool in a user-friendly distribution.

The AUR

Arch based distributions may attract users because of the release schedule, simplicity, modernity, etc. But none of those are exclusive to Arch-based distros. One of the ultimate only reasons one user might be on Arch instead of Void or Gentoo is the AUR.

In a Arch-based distribution that trades user-centricity for user-friendliness, a GUI should be provided.
This seems the partial role of Pamac, and the reason why it still has a place, but not as it is today.
My proposal would be to repurpose Pamac as an AUR graphical frontend that follows the GNOME Human-Interface guidelines, while making clear that the software it offers is not officially supported.
The AUR offers killer app reasons for some people to switch to GNU/Linux, as they find the software they were used to and more, easy to install.

Summary of the porposal

  • Drop Pamac support for normal packages in the Manjaro GNOME edition in favor of GNOME Software.
  • Maintain AUR GUI support either by integrating it in GNOME software, repurposing Pamac as an AUR tool, or use/adapt another AUR GUI developed elsewhere.
  • Drop GNOME extensions that check for updates.
  • Reinvest all these saved resources.

Possible criticism

The possible question would be if Manjaro is right for these people (extreme beginners). I've seen less annoyances in Manjaro compared to its Ubuntu-family counterparts.

For many users, the fact that they will adopt GNU/Linux is only a matter of three specific things: looks good, works out of the box, and they have plenty of software available. In order to have plenty of programs available at a click, I need them to access the AUR in an easy way. Plus I can use all Parabola/Arch tricks with friends and family, too.

I hope it's useful, or at least some food for thought.
Thanks

Thank you for your idea and detailed reasoning. We have tested gnome-software previously as an alternative to pamac and decided to use pamac. Here are some of the reasons we previously reached this conclusion:

  • community did not like it
  • if we do this, there aren't many meaningful differences between Manjaro and Ubuntu/Fedora
  • It doesn't support AUR and having multiple package management guis is confusing for users
  • gnome-software is an app store, not a package manager. Many packages won't even get listed in gnome-software
  • reboot to update model generates too many false positives. For example, if I update bmenu, gnome-software insists there should be a reboot for this update, even though there is absolutely no reason to do so. Faster rolling branches of manjaro are updated too frequently for this model to make sense.
  • Manjaro doesn't use Plymouth, so unlike in Fedora/Ubuntu there would be no progress bar for the update during a reboot
  • as you mentioned, gnome-software is really heavy for what it does. For example, the system I develop gnome edition on is a netbook with 4Gb ram and a weak processor. Having gnome-software running in the background greatly harms the user experience.
  • gnome-software doesn't really bring anything significant extra to the table. It does half of what pamac does for 10 times the resources.

Unfortunately these resources are not transferable. Gnome is just one of the Manjaro editions and pamac would be developed even if there was no gnome. Furthermore, the gnome extension is extremely simple and requires very little maintenance in the first place. So, counterintuitively the suggestion would require more resources, not less.

Manjaro is not very suitable for extreme beginners if they are not willing to learn to maintain their system or have someone to help them. This is the nature of rolling release. Manjaro Sometimes updates require manual intervention.

Fortunately, the suggestions you made are very easy to implement for your friends. Just install gnome software and tell your people to use pamac only if they don't don't find what they want in the bag app. Alternatively, bauh is closer to your desired functionality.

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Also note that in settings you have an option to hide the tray icon when no update is available. A restart of the extension is needed.

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But that's what it is, sometimes unstable, sometimes hacky. When a user has an issue they should contact the admin (you) or the support (Manjaro forum).

My opinion is that Ubuntu is too difficult for such users. Would you like them to check out Endless OS? I hope that soon there will be more alternatives to Endless OS, with read-only root file system, easy to update, well-documented, many apps. I would dream of a user friendly Clear Linux.

I think Pamac is perfect for Manjaro. It allows as much control as needed and presents the packages the way that is needed. If a Manjaro user fails to understand that packages are not only Firefox, Chromium, LibreOffice then he or she will run into issues.

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As expected, there are more technical details which are not obvious to the external observer. Thanks for the detailed response.

Then the proposal would be a redesign perhaps closer to GNOME HIG, but then I don't know if that UI/UX fits other editions. That would especially mean re-thinking the feedback that is displayed to the user and splitting Available and Installed software.

@Chrysostomus as you mentioned, gnome-software is really heavy for what it does. For example, the system I develop gnome edition on is a netbook with 4Gb ram and a weak processor. Having gnome-software running in the background greatly harms the user experience.

Comparing systems is never truly fair, and I guess development is not the same as use. But my IBM ThinkPad T60 (2006 laptop I think, I lost the count; 3GB of RAM) runs completely smooth GNOME on Parabola, previously Arch, including Geary and Software in the background.

@eugen-b It's true that's sometimes hacky and unstable, but GNOME does a good job on hiding that from the regular user. For the non-technical, having such feedback is just a source of worry. The technical user can troubleshoot regardless of explicit feedback (in this context). We like it or not, emotional responses to error messages is a research field in human-computer interaction some of my colleagues are working on.

I think I didn't phrase the Ubuntu part well: I didn't really mean that Ubuntu is too difficult, more that I've come across more problems and annoyances myself on it vs. Arch and derivatives. ""Unfortunately"" I have to use Ubuntu for work.

Edit: forgot one reply

I think if pamac will get some minimal design changes, it will be as easy as gnome software. I suggested that a few days ago here https://gitlab.manjaro.org/applications/pamac/-/issues/796 - in essence users should simply see only the "install" buttons instead of "install" and "build" for repo/flatpaks and AUR + let the install button do the installation without the popup called "transactions" that in my view is very confusing for most "normal" users. Also maybe make pamac look a bit better, with larger icons for "apps" (like the gnome software center).

On top of that it should be a bit more obvious when a package is "installing" - I think the tiny bottom (progress) bar is not very visible.

I've used the Gnome Software center for many years and it was always buggy + not being able to easily access AUR it means a severe lack of packages that are easily instalable via pamac.

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Pamac is the best what happened to humanity. For me irreplaceable.

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The same for me.

We also need to do something with this ugly text in package descriptions, maybe use emoji instead, everybody likes emoji or maybe somebody draws it?

What gives you the right to make such a ridiculous assumption? ■■■■■■■ moronic statement but then with 2 hours total forum read time I guess it can be expected.

If you can't sort out perceived usability issues on Ubuntu and it's derivatives, the pot is calling the kettle black here.

He only meant his friends and relatives.

Equally as ridiculous to put manjaro on systems used by absolute novices if the OP's own Linux knowledge has such evident limitations as well.

Ok, it looks like we need to close it. Constructive discussion has taken place, now only rants will follow.

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