The Less Meta-categories, the Better

Browsing categories is one of the two main strategies used by users to find packages they might like to install. The general method of interaction is similar across all of the package managers I studied but significant differences exist in the usability of each package manager’s category system. The main distinguishing factor was the categories that were used in each package manager.

For example, the categories used in Software Center were intuitive to the users. Many users complained about the categorization in Synaptic, calling it arbitrary or idiosyncratic. The categories in QuickPET were also considered to not be very useful, to not be mutually-exclusive, and to make it unclear where anything that didn’t fit in one of those categories would go.

To try to figure out what makes for a good category system, we categorized the categories used by each package manager, and looked at what meta-categories were perceived by users as being the most usable.

Package Manager DE F BAI NAI PL P M W
Ubuntu Software Center X X X X
Synaptic Package Manager X X X X X X X
Mint Software Manager X X X X X
Fedora Add/Remove Software X X X X X X X
Puppy Package Manager X X X X
QuickPET X X X
Apple App Store X X


DE Desktop Environment
F Featured
BAI Broad Area of Interest
NAI Narrow Area of Interest
PL Programming Language
P Platform
M Miscellaneous
W What it is

In general, the less different types of categories existed, the better the perceived usability of the category system. In particular, the two best performers both used mainly categories describing what the package is, and categories describing broad areas of interest, such as “Office”, “Health”, or “Science”.

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2 Responses to The Less Meta-categories, the Better

  1. Pingback: Packaging separately leads to better discovery and less fart apps | Brendon Robinson's Blog

  2. Pingback: Big catalogs need more navigation features | Brendon Robinson's Blog

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