RISC OS Package managementBy Peter Naulls. Published: 25th Dec 2003, 15:34:01 | Permalink | Printable
Xmas presents aren't the only packages to open this festive season [Updated]After you've finished opening your presents, we've found there's one more for RISC OS users sent to us early this morning by Graham Shaw.
Graham has released RiscPkg, a RISC OS package manager, a project Graham had hinted to drobe a few months ago. The idea behind package management is relatively simple, but it can hide suprisingly complex details in its aim to ensure a system has the latest versions of software, along with making sure dependent programs are installed, and downloading these easily with an automated installation system.
Package managers have existed on other systems for some time - Microsoft Update embodies the same principles for OS updates (although invididual programs in Windows often have their own independent methods of checking for updates) - and most Linux systems have comprehensive package management, such as RedHat's RPM format, and the much praised (and sometimes critisised) apt/dpkg system used by Debian.
Package management and autoupdating isn't an entirely new idea to RISC OS either with Castle's Iyonix Update Watcher being the most prominent example. The version checker in Thomas Olsson's IRC client, LIRC, is another example. Although all these efforts have been important, none has fully addressed all the significant issues needed for a RISC OS package manager.
It's easy to suggest that something like apt/dpkg should be ported to RISC OS (which is certainly possible), but even a cursory examination of the issues quickly reveals that something which is suitable for Linux is not really appropriate for RISC OS - fixed paths being one of several items. With this in mind, Graham based many of his concepts and file formats from the Debian system, but the implementation is entirely new. Graham also exchanged ideas with Andrew Sidwell, who had previously conducted his own invesitgation into RISC OS packaging issues.
RiscPkg in action
Unfortunately, this very early 0.01 version is a little bit unstable, and I wasn't able to fully evaluate RiscPkg, but I was nevertheless impressed by what I did see of its functionality. The initial installation is a little complex, which can hopefully be improved in future, requiring a two-step bootstrap whereby RiscPkg initially updates itself.
Graham also provides a comprehensive manual and the source, so you can poke around with it yourself. It will be interesting to see how this idea develops.
Update 1/1/2004 16:25
Graham today updated his site, outlining more fully the aims of the project. He also crucially made a call for people to package RISC OS programs; a task that doesn't generally require programming skill, just a little knowledge of obey scripts.
If you've been looking for a chance to contribue to RISC OS in a practical way, but don't have programming savvy or large amounts of time to spare, this could be an excellent choice of activity. Decisions made and implemented by such people at this early stage of implementation will be important to the success of the project.
Graham makes it clear that he's not trying to impinge on the upstream authors (meaning the actual programmer or porter of a program), but rather this system may make it easier to distribute their software and make sure available versions are up to date.
Time to get involved.
[20:48 26/12/2003: Edited out reference to a defunct package project]
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