3 days ago I installed wheezy on my laptop. The day after I realized that no graphical APT front-end was installed. Usually, I just install Synaptic as a habit, but this time I was surprised I had to do that as I was specifically testing the completeness of our KDE meta-packages and had installed kde-standard ("KDE Plasma Desktop and standard set of applications"). I discovered that even if one installs kde-full, no graphical package manager is installed. This is kind of a problem for wheezy...
Synaptic is no longer in the desktop task since tasksel 2.43: http://packages.debian.org/changelogs/pool/main/t/tasksel/current/changelog#version2.43
* Add kpackage to kde-desktop. * Move synaptic to gnome-desktop.
Replacing Synaptic with kpackage was certainly not a great move in 2006, but the situation got worst with tasksel 2.79: http://packages.debian.org/changelogs/pool/main/t/tasksel/current/changelog#version2.79
* Remove kpackage from kde-desktop. kdeadmin depends on it.
and kdeadmin 4:4.4.2-1: http://packages.debian.org/changelogs/pool/main/k/kdeadmin/current/changelog#version4:4.4.2-1
* KPackage dead, remove it. (Closes: #523450)
Now, KDE merely recommends update-notifier-kde (via kde-standard).
When I realized this, I thought Synaptic should be added to the desktop task. But the situation outside KDE is not what I thought.
In squeeze, gnome depended on synaptic. But GNOME metapackages no longer depend on Synaptic following http://anonscm.debian.org/viewvc/pkg-gnome?view=revision&revision=29732
It is not clear how intentional that is, but since then GNOME seems to only bring in gnome-packagekit.
As for LXDE and Xfce, it seems they do not bring in any front-end. I imagine these should bring in Synaptic.
If the above is right, I think desktop tasks should install Synaptic, but I am not sure about GNOME. In fact, I haven't been following the new front-ends drafted since I started using Debian (2004). GNOME PackageKit seems to claim a certain maturity, so I tried it. My very first impression is that although it's neat/shiny and apparently not too buggy, it's far from matching Synaptic in completeness. I hardly picture myself only using GNOME PackageKit, and I doubt it's a good idea to replace Synaptic with GNOME PackageKit.
Before going further, I apologize if I missed a previous discussion of the topic, I'm hardly keeping up these days. The only somewhat related discussion I found is "A Debian sprint for package management GUIs?", in November: http://lists.debian.org/debian-gtk-gnome/2011/11/msg00007.html
Unfortunately that discussion seems to be halted.
I have been using Synaptic for nearly 8 years and I watched it being maintained, but evolving very slowly. We simply have very little manpower working on APT front-ends, beyond the occasional attempts to write something new halted mid-way and a few projects that did produce interesting alternatives for specific use cases (such as upgrading). I would be very happy if some cross-distribution project could bring us a successor to Synaptic for free.
But I don't know if PackageKit (and front-ends) is ever going to match Synaptic's flexibility. And more importantly, I'm not sure that will be the case in time for wheezy. I would be inclined to "encourage" an alternative if we agreed it should be the long-term replacement, but not at any cost, and from what I saw, shipping GNOME PackageKit instead of Synaptic would have an important cost in the short term.
GNOME PackageKit entered testing in April 2011. Making it replace Synaptic would be replacing Synaptic with software that didn't go in stable yet.
"gnome-packagekit is not ready to be in the default install" according to http://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=649014
That was however filed in November, and the only argument spelled out was a bug now fixed. I do not consider a lack of features as a reason to exclude software from the default install (unless the lack of a "feature" constitutes a bug), however it *is* a reason not to make that software *replace* another piece of software which is more complete.
In fact, if GNOME PackageKit is mature enough but still overall inferior to Synaptic, nothing prevents us from shipping both. Synaptic is lightweight. There is much redundancy between Synaptic and GNOME PackageKit, so this will bloat the interface, but I don't think shipping both would be worst than shipping only GNOME PackageKit overall. I saw a couple of things GNOME PackageKit has that Synaptic doesn't.
So what do others think? The current situation in KDE, LXDE and Xfce appears to be unintentional, but for GNOME, I'm wondering how intentional the situation is, and how desirable it is. Depending on the perceptions of GNOME PackageKit and Synaptic, I may ask that Synaptic be added to task-desktop, or that Synaptic be added to only KDE and maybe to LXDE and Xfce. Unless you have radically different ideas.
I'd like to emphasize that even though the future of APT front-ends might have an influence of which choice is best now, I wish that the future (post-wheezy) remains a marginal part of our choice, and that this discussion focuses more on determining what is better now (at least for wheezy) than on establishing an ideal future or speculating on what front-end will eventually be best.