Smith is a package management system for Windows. It allows Windows users to download, manage, install and uninstall open source desktop applications on top of a Windows system.
In its simplest implementation, Smith is a port of Synaptic to Windows. It is coupled with a package repository online, from which Smith draws its source code.
For new users, one of the challenges of adopting open source programs on Windows is knowing what they need and where to find it. Smith will be searchable, allowing a user to look for “image editor” and find GIMP, or look for “antivirus” and find ClamWin.
For advanced users, setting up, managing, and maintaining a collection of open source programs on Windows requires more effort and time than it should. A Linux-like package manager makes updating all installed software extremely fast and efficient. Bringing this ability to the Windows world will help spread FOSS to new users as well as increase the speed and effectiveness of more experienced users.
Smith is GUI-based, organized around collections of software (“image editing suite” may include GIMP, Inkscape, etc, while the “modeling and animation suite” would include Blender, POV-RAY, and Cinelarra, “office suite” would include OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird and Firefox, “games pack” includes games, etc).
Smith also contains a user-configurable management system. It lets you set up one computer, save its configuration file somewhere, and then automate the rollout of identical systems across a network, by pointing them to the saved config file.
An initial collection of essential apps will be available in Smith’s repository when it goes live. These will include Firefox, OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird, ClamWin, Miro, GIMP, Inkscape, Pidgin, Scribus and others. Eventually, all FOSS available for Windows should also be added to the repository.
Writing open source software to run on Windows has proven a solid strategy to help FOSS grow (witness Firefox). It also provides a halo effect that brings more people to the Linux platform over time. Bringing together all of the FOSS applications for Windows under one management umbrella will help consolidate and fortify efforts to grow FOSS. A user who may know of Firefox and Smith, for example, will now be exposed to other applications that Smith recommends. A university may distribute Smith to its students, and configure it to install a pre-approved set of applications they’d like their students to run.
Mark Shuttleworth described this idea as “elegant” in a personal email. Others have given it similar praise–now I, a non-programmer, need to find a way to make it happen!
Currently, I am investigating Mozilla XULRunner as a development platform for Smith.
Also keep an eye on, and learn from, Linspire’s CNR.com project.