Ubuntu Software Center vs. Mac App Store

As many of you may already know, Mac OS X now comes installed with a “Mac App Store”. Ubuntu also comes installed with an “Ubuntu Software Center”. Both of these applications serve the same general functionality in very similar formats, but I’m going to take a look at what needs to be improved in the Ubuntu Software Center.

First off, lets take a look at both of these applications from a first impressions point of view. Its pretty obvious at a glance that the user interface of these applications are eerily similar. It’s also pretty obvious that one app has received a little more attention to detail and aesthetics.

First Glance

The Mac App Store features a rolling banner at the top which highlights new or popular items. This is something that Ubuntu has not adopted. Not that its necessary, but it’s certainly a nice touch.

Both applications feature a “What’s New” and “Top” section, but in Ubuntu the presentation is… well, lacking to say the least. You can probably see a different in the thumbnails above with the polished Mac App Store that seems to just pop and the Ubuntu Software Center that just seems dull and with little focus.

I seem to recall mention of Ubuntu trying to improve the quality of application icons and screenshots. This could go far for improving application presentation! As Ubuntu is increasingly becoming more and more popular, the need for a matured and polished software center is greater than ever.

Now lets look at what kind of information and selling points the Mac App Store offers when you select an item that you may be interested in installing.

Mac App Store – Application Profile Page

The Mac App Store shines with its prevalent display of the item’s icon, a well written brief description and most importantly a screenshot gallery. While a short description of the application is an obvious requirement, the screenshot gallery may be the single best-selling point for an application. These screenshots have the power to showoff not only how nice your application is, but more importantly what it can do! It seems that authors tend to pick a handful of well-chosen screenshots to give a thorough glance at the features and functionality available.

Some other nice details that the Mac App Store offers include information about the author and their website, the application’s version and release date, and of course a customer review section. The review section is just like any other review section, though it does provide a nice break down of the ratings. It’s easy to see the overall rating of an application as well as how many users rated it a one star, two star, three star, etc.

Now lets take a look at what we get from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Ubuntu Software Center – Application Profile Page

The Ubuntu Software Center has actually evolved a great deal over the past couple of years. Just like the Mac App Store, Ubuntu offers a prevalent application icon, a brief description and, when available, a screenshot. However, the simple presentation of these three important details is somewhat lacking.

As mentioned before, it’s not uncommon to find an application with a very poorly created icon. You may also, at times, run into the issue of a poorly written description or find an application with no screenshot available. Even when you find an application which has all the above, you’re only presented with one screenshot which opens in a new window and not simply featuring the larger view from within the software center itself.

Some improvements that I’d personally like to see would be an implementation similar to the gallery in the Mac App Store. I’m not saying I’d like for Ubuntu to clone the Mac App Store, but its clear why improving this feature would be very beneficial for the Ubuntu Software Center.

It would also be nice if the Ubuntu Software Center would pull screenshots of these applications (possibly from their own servers) that are taken in the Radiance or Ambiance theme. I’m sure it can be a little confusing for some when they see a screenshot with a non-default theme applied to it. This is a change that Ubuntu should consider for user familiarity and consistency.

Other important details that the Ubuntu Software Center offers include the application version, a “People Also Installed” section and user reviews. While the availability of the application version is certainly great, the complex versioning system that is so often used in Linux may make it useless for some. I understand the Chromium Web Browser version 18.0.1025.168~r134367-0ubuntu2, however, many people may find this less than ideal.

As for the user reviews, Ubuntu has done a nice job of making it easy to review and contribute to the success or demise of any given application. I’d still like to see a break down of the rating for each level like the Mac App Store does.

Now lets talk a little about some very poor user interface designing…

Ubuntu Software Center – Interface Design

What happens when you view a category or perform a search in the Ubuntu Software Center? Simple, you get a list. What kind of list you may ask? A very space inefficient list that leaves the user endlessly scrolling through results while appearing to be a half-assed implementation.

Mac’s approach to situations such as displaying categories or search results is to throw the results into a table-like layout. While this is a nice implementation, it’s not necessarily the best. There’s one thing that I know for sure though, and that’s the fact that Ubuntu’s current implementation just doesn’t cut it.

Other weaknesses in the design of the Ubuntu Software Center can be attributed to lack of visual divisions between applications in a list or important application details, poor color contrasts, inconsistent styling and a general feeling of the overall application’s color being desaturated.

As far as the poor color contrast, there are many areas throughout the software center that could benefit from adjusting the colors to focus the important content, make it stand out and shine, and make the less important details fade into the background. This technique helps to remove the feeling of having such a cluttered interface while retaining all the same information.

Conclusion

While Mac has always had the edge on other operating systems as far as offering a polished user interface, Ubuntu has come a long way and will continue to improve. Unfortunately, for the last few releases, Ubuntu has been overly focused on their Unity environment and this has left a lot less time for them to spend on improving other very important aspects of the operating system… such as the software center.

That being said, the Ubuntu Software Center certainly is a very usable tool and is much better than it has been in the past. One great thing about open source is the ability to take a bit of code, improve it and then release it as potentially a better alternative. That’s just what happened when Linux Deepin released the Deepin Software Center.

Lets just hope that the Ubuntu developers have taken note of this and will continue to strive for the best possible Linux experience.