Over the last few years there’s been a dramatic shift from fragmented software distribution to individual software developers offering their programs for purchase or download via distribution channels, better known as App stores or Marketplaces.
The rise of mobile platforms such as iOS and Android have played a huge part in this, and although it’s progressed the quality of distribution channels, these types of places have always been present in a number of Unix and Linux operating systems in the form of package managers.
Historically, RISC OS software followed the same path as software on Windows – if you needed to get a specific piece of software, you found it online or read about it somewhere then you went to the developer to get a copy.
The last few years has seen the emergence of package managers in an attempt to centralise and simplify software distribution on the platform, for the most part I’d say it’s worked too. The success of package management is probably more important for an operating system like RISC OS because there just aren’t enough media outlets – blogs, news portals, magazines etc. that can pull off across-the-board coverage of everything that’s out there.
In a nutshell, package managers are a way of handling software installation, updates, and uninstallation in a centralised, non-biased way. Often, software depends upon other software to properly run. Package management deals with such dependencies, installing what you need to run a program when you’re installing that program. RISC OS in itself is quite modular in the way it works, and the software that runs on it isn’t any different – common dependencies include the Shared C Library and Tinct.
The main difference with package managers on RISC OS is that they are very passive as to where you install software on your system. Generally, package managers on other operating systems, especially Unix-like systems, tend to only use fixed locations for installing software. RISC OS systems don’t follow the same kind of location standards as on other operating systems, the location of most files vary depending on the user’s preferences.
There are two package managers currently available, Pling Store from R-Comp includes a mixture of free and commercial software – while RiskPkg (and the Packman front-end) primarily consists of free and open source programs.
The benefit to installing applications on RISC OS via a package manager apart from not having to manually source each application from the developer’s website, is it’s ease-of-use. It may not be much of an issue for veteran RISC OS users, but for someone who has never used the operating system before, it may be tricky having to download a Zip file or another archive type then have to use (and potentially source then install) a program that can open that file – SparkPlug for example.
If you haven’t looked at package management on RISC OS before, I highly recommend you do. Both RiscPkg and Pling Store are very usable. Packman, a front-end for RiscPkg is also very easy-to-use.
What’s great with Pling Store in particular is its ability to take credit/debit card payments through the application itself, which is great especially considering that if you were to try and make an online purchase via a web browser on RISC OS, it won’t be able to actually display the site in order for you to make the purchase.