Update Manager Listing should NOT use descriptions

Bug #655998 reported by Graham Crumb on 2010-10-06
This bug affects 14 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
update-manager (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

Binary package hint: update-manager

The use of package descriptions (instead of package names) in the Update Manager package listings represents a significant and needless reduction in usability.

There is no scenario in which a description of a package to be upgraded works better than the package name itself, followed by the description on the SECOND line, in smaller text.

As a seasoned programmer who has been creating GUIs since 1993, I'd like to offer the following reasons why using a longer description not only represents a reduction in usability but also reduces Package Manager's effectiveness as a security and management tool:

1) The headers are no longer bolded, which makes the heading more difficult to distinguish from the second line;

2) Longer list items require the eye move from left to right (or right to left in some languages), which makes it far more difficult for the eye to scan vertically;

3) NOBODY uses these package descriptions, making them even less recognisable than the (admittedly opaque) package names;

3a) Even if their use were to become common practice, the use of opaque, longer descriptions instead of opaque-but-terse package names is STILL not an improvement;

4) Developers don't make any effort to write succinct, useful descriptions (can you guess which package is the 'transaction based package management service'? I didn't think so);

5) Package names, although difficult for non-technical users to decipher, follow long-established naming conventions, and can immediately be parsed by advanced and intermediate users - the very people to whom this information is useful;

6) Package names are shorter (short is Good in lists);

7) There is no explanation or description that can be made in this limited space (save perhaps for a link to a wikipedia page) that could conceivably be of any use whatsoever to beginner users. Packages and their importance to the system are never going to more than vaguely understood by beginners. Reducing the usability of an important security tool for advanced and intermediate users is therefore a misguided and ultimately unrewarding step.

7a) The descriptions themselves are just more verbose version of the package name (e.g. 'tools for generating an initramfs' for 'initramfs-tools') - they add NO NEW information;

To sum up: This change in the displayed values in Package Manager's listings adds nothing to usability for beginner users (to whom the listing is meaningless in any case) and make it more difficult to use for everyone else.

Lest someone suggest this is unimportant: THIS IS A SERIOUS BUG. People judge whether and when to update their systems based on this listing. It MUST be as clear, succinct and useful as possible.

Expert knowledge of the system and its components is a prerequisite for using this tool, no matter how dumbed down the interface gets. Presenting the wrong information in the listing only makes it harder for those of us who depend on this functionality to do our jobs.

Michael Vogt (mvo) on 2010-10-11
Changed in update-manager (Ubuntu):
status: New → Confirmed
importance: Undecided → Medium
Graham Crumb (gcrumb) wrote :

Demonstration of why this is a bug:


Xavier Guillot (valeryan-24) wrote :


I fully agree with this demand, regression is still present in Natty.

It was a lot better and clear to have in first line, bold and big text name of application which has updates available, and above in smaller text the description, all was ranged in alphabetic order, it was very quick to see what was listed, which ones select or not, being informed...

I do not understand why behavior has been changed, this could be one of the papercuts for user experience.

Hope to see classic update-manager presentation coming back soon.

Graham Crumb (gcrumb) wrote :

Two examples of why this is bad UI behaviour:

1) The heading for the Google Chrome browser is 'The browser from Google'. No actual reference to the name, and unnecessarily verbose.

2) The entry for subversion is 'Advanced Version Control System'. Again, no name, and hopelessly imprecise. Worse, this is a package for developers, who generally speaking can be trusted to know what 'Subversion' means in their context.

If someone can suggest which files would need altering to restore the display order to package name first, description second, I'll submit the patch myself....

Graham Crumb (gcrumb) wrote :

Turns out this 'feature' is configurable in GConf.

Run gconf-editor and un-set the following:


That doesn't remove the bug, however, because there is no compelling argument to be made for ever showing summaries before names. Doing so only breaks every list display convention ever used since cuneiform was still all the rage.


dmcgarry@emigre:/tmp$ diff -ruN UpdateManager-old.py UpdateManager.py
--- UpdateManager-old.py 2011-04-28 09:02:56.735606001 +1100
+++ UpdateManager.py 2011-04-28 09:05:10.087606001 +1100
@@ -260,7 +260,9 @@
     # init show version
     self.show_versions = self.gconfclient.get_bool("/apps/update-manager/show_versions")
     # init summary_before_name
- self.summary_before_name = self.gconfclient.get_bool("/apps/update-manager/summary_before_name")
+ # Actually, don't - it's a stupid idea.
+ # self.summary_before_name = self.gconfclient.get_bool("/apps/update-manager/summary_before_name")
+ self.summary_before_name = False
     # keep track when we run (for update-notifier)
     self.gconfclient.set_int("/apps/update-manager/launch_time", int(time.time()))

Thanks for nothing to Michael and the update-manager development gang who couldn't even be arsed to mention that this is configurable. In fairness, though, Launchpad is so incredibly broken and flooded, I can understand why devs would choose to just ignore it.

anatoly techtonik (techtonik) wrote :

Nice idea and argumentation. It still needs screenshots to be perceptually convinced. I find myself scanning alphabetical package names instead of descriptions too, but I am on developer side. I suspect users don't read them at all. For reading it would be good to have a dedicated pane for details (bug #1078769).

anatoly techtonik (techtonik) wrote :

I also agree that there is a little meaning in giving meaningless short names to various hardcore lib* components. Users will still use detailed descriptions to figure out what's this.

Adam Dingle (adam-yorba) wrote :

These days Update Manager displays only short descriptions of packages to be upgraded - the only way I can find out the actual package names is by looking in the "Technical description" area below. The summary_before_name GSettings key apparently no longer has any effect.

That might be OK for casual users (although Graham gives a good argument above that these descriptions aren't terribly useful for them either). But a serious user would really like to see the actual package names. I think there should be a preference, command-line parameter or GSettings key which causes Update Manager to show actual package names in the main list (possibly with descriptions too).

Borim (borim) wrote :

The short description of many packages is too long to fit in the small window of the update manager. As an example I attached a screenshot from today. As you can see there, some "Free implementation of the...." is updated multiple times. The difference is just:
- Ope
- GL-A
and the rest is truncated. I hardly believe that any user (casual, heavy) think that these description stubs are more informative, than just the package names. The description stubs are more like a riddle what gets updated.

Please display again the package names! Than you can get at least a glimpse what gets updated. For more information the technical description can be used.

tags: added: needs-design
danstowell (danstowell) wrote :

A vote from me to say: please show the names!

When update-manager pops up, the first thing I want to decide is: "Is this update going to do anything that I wouldn't want, e.g. change any package versions that I'm currently relying on for my data analysis?" but the screen just says "A lightweight blah manager", "A dbus implementation of a thing", etc.

It gives the user no real idea of what will happen if they say OK.

Please put the names somewhere in the summary table where the user can scan them (the "technical description" is not enough because not scannable).

Karol Stasiak (stasiu88) wrote :

Anything is going on regarding this regression?

Today, I'm seeing two entries in the update list labelled "Transitional dummy package". Gee, I wonder what they do. Also, "Command-line driven interactive plotting program. X-package". So, which plotting program is that?

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