Update Manager listing should show package names, not just descriptions

Bug #655998 reported by Graham Crumb
This bug affects 21 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)
Changed in update-manager (Ubuntu):
status: New → Confirmed
importance: Undecided → Medium
Revision history for this message
Graham Crumb (gcrumb) wrote :

Demonstration of why this is a bug:


Revision history for this message
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.

Revision history for this message
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....

Revision history for this message
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.

Revision history for this message
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).

Revision history for this message
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.

Revision history for this message
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).

Revision history for this message
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
Revision history for this message
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).

Revision history for this message
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?

Anders Kaseorg (andersk)
summary: - Update Manager Listing should NOT use descriptions
+ Update Manager listing should show package names, not just descriptions
Revision history for this message
Mikkel Kirkgaard Nielsen (mikini) wrote :

As a user experiencing this issue as a daily nuisance and after seeing the mentioned "summary_before_name" gconf parameter having no effect I went digging in the source code to check if any of its logic was still present. First conclusion; the value of gconf parameter summary-before-name (dash, not underscore) is still read and set to a local variable but never used for anything in the program logic.

However, by studying the changelog (file:debian/changelog) I realized that the current state of the package listing is an implementation of the design specification called "SoftwareUpdates".

update-manager (1:0.178) raring; urgency=low

  * Implement the "available updates" details pane from the SoftwareUpdates
    spec. Specifically, this adds grouping of related updates, adds an
    "Ubuntu base" group for core packages, and shows only the description
    summary in the main view.
  * Show a restart icon next to packages that declare they will need a
    system restart via XB-Restart-Required: system

 -- Michael Terry <email address hidden> Thu, 24 Jan 2013 14:20:22 -0500

Detailed in section "Expanded presentation of updates" (https://wiki.ubuntu.com/SoftwareUpdates#Expanded_presentation_of_updates) is that the "title" of a package should be shown to the user. The "title" being defined in the "SoftwarePackageOperations" specification (https://wiki.ubuntu.com/SoftwarePackageOperations#title) as the package synopsis, unless package supplies a user visible application and .desktop file, then the "nice looking" application name is the title.

This change was implemented in r2582 of update-manager:

$ bzr log -r 2582
revno: 2582 [merge]
committer: Michael Terry <email address hidden>
branch nick: trunk
timestamp: Thu 2013-01-24 13:03:42 -0500
  Merge available updates pane changes to group packages and show the description, not the package name

So despite the long standing silence from maintainers it is indeed a conscious design choice to show a wobbly word soup instead of the package name, it is not a regression or a bug.

For the curious, the previous use of the summary-before-name gconf parameter was to decide whether the primary identifier in the then more elaborate listing (something like https://www.howtoforge.com/images/upgrade_ubuntu_9.10_to_10.04/2.jpg) was to be the summary or package name (it was probably a change in default from name to summary prompting the report of this bug).

$ bzr log -r 2582 -p|grep summary_ -A3
- if self.summary_before_name:
- contents = "%s\n<small>%s</small>" % (summary, name)
- else:
- contents = "<b>%s</b>\n<small>%s</small>" % (name, summary)

So the question is now where to turn to improve the situation? If the design decision is non-changeable would maintainers maybe accept/devise a patch adding a configuration parameter that toggles whether to show package name or summary?

Revision history for this message
Alkis Georgopoulos (alkisg) wrote :

As I mention in my duplicate bug #1733776, the Debian policy hints against this design choice:

From https://www.debian.org/doc/debian-policy/#the-single-line-synopsis:
> Do not include the package name in the synopsis line. The display software knows how to display this already...

As for the related gsetting, it's true by default, but even one sets it to false, it doesn't respect it:
$ gsettings get com.ubuntu.update-manager summary-before-name

So at least that part is a BUG, update-manager doesn't do what it claims in /usr/share/glib-2.0/schemas/com.ubuntu.update-manager.gschema.xml:

    <key name="summary-before-name" type="b">
      <summary>Show package summary before package name in update list</summary>
      <description>If this key is set, the main update list window will show the package summary before the package name.</description>

Revision history for this message
Aleš Janda (kybl) wrote :

This behavior is irritating me for all 10 years. Finally, I made a patch for it. It just adds package name in front of description, if there is only the description. If there is a full program name (like "Google Chrome"), it keeps it as is. I also added a screenshot of how it looks with the patch.

Include to upstream would be very welcomed!


Revision history for this message
Aleš Janda (kybl) wrote :
Revision history for this message
Ubuntu Foundations Team Bug Bot (crichton) wrote :

The attachment "Patch with adding package name in front of description" seems to be a patch. If it isn't, please remove the "patch" flag from the attachment, remove the "patch" tag, and if you are a member of the ~ubuntu-reviewers, unsubscribe the team.

[This is an automated message performed by a Launchpad user owned by ~brian-murray, for any issues please contact him.]

tags: added: patch
Revision history for this message
Brian Murray (brian-murray) wrote :

Thanks for working on this and developing a patch for the issue. Would you please complete a Canonical contributor licence agreement so we can incorporate this patch? Thanks again!


Revision history for this message
Aleš Janda (kybl) wrote :

@Brian Murray

Done (hopefully) :-)

Revision history for this message
Mikko Rantalainen (mira) wrote :

Any progress with this? I'd love to see the patch from comment #13 in the official version.

To post a comment you must log in.
This report contains Public information  
Everyone can see this information.

Duplicates of this bug

Other bug subscribers

Remote bug watches

Bug watches keep track of this bug in other bug trackers.