I started using GNU/Linux with RedHat 5.2. It came with plenty of packages (GNOME 0.20, Linux 2.0.36, etc) and I was quite happy to deal with RPM (RedHat Package Manager, hum) telling me which package is required to install another one, which package contains which files. You simply had to go to RPMFind.net to get missing packages. If no package was available, you could write a clean RPM spec to build one or use checkinstall to build RPMs on the fly when doing make install. It was more than ten years ago, still, nowadays Microsoft Windows XP (sorry, I never used Vista/7) have no clean packaging system that I know of; you have a clumsy list of installed software (InstallShield, whatever it means), no clear idea of dependancies, you can remove pieces of software required by other still installed software and there are plenty of installed pieces of software that you have no way of clearly listing.
At that time, I had a Pentium II 350 MHz and a Pentium 200 MMX as workstations and a Pentium 133 MHz as home server. I, soon enough, had the idea to write a script to produce a list of installed packages readable over intranet and so I published a BASH-based script to output an HTML view of a RPM database called pdbv, standing for Package DataBase View, the first version 1.0.0 being released in June 2002. On the Gna! project page, when listing pros and cons of pdbv, the first pro that came up was “it does not require lucid/gtk+/qt or other big libs”: nowadays, GTK+ and Qt probably no longer strike the mind of anyone as “big (bloated) libraries” and I assume Lucid is no longer even installed on most GNU/Linux systems. Later, I rewrote pdbv in Perl which made if was faster and lighter. Here are demos of pdbv: pdbv 1.x with French locale, pdbv 2.x.
As you can see browing pdbv’s demos, it obviously supports also dpkg (Debian Package, duh). I gradually switched over Debian GNU/Linux for two reasons: apt-get and the branching stable/testing/unstable. Apt-get was the end of wasting time on RPMFind. Debian stable offers astonishing stability for servers while testing/unstable provides brand new desktop software in a timely fashion.
Nowadays, I spend less time dealing with computers and I no longer rely much on pdbv. Due to lack of support (I guess I’m to blame; but KPackage or Synaptic are surely more useful to endusers anyway), it will be removed from Debian at its next stable release (it is still in Debian lenny but no longer in testing). I no longer care much about which software is installed, I use debfoster to keep clean my systems (I know, just like apt-get, debfoster is deprecated in favor of aptitude, but I cannot help using it instead).
However I’d like to know which upgrades are pending. For this reason (and I’m quite sure I’m reinventing something that already exists, but I failed to find it and I wanted it my way), I wrote a small script called apt-warn that will run apt-get update and then warn you of pending updates (only if it has not warned you already about them). It requires Apt::Pkg. It is supposed to be installed a cronjob in /etc/cron.daily. Running on my workstation this morning, it outputs:
Follows 4 newly updated package(s) that you could upgrade on bender:
hicolor-icon-theme (0.11-1 -> 0.12-1)
sudo (1.7.2p7-1 -> 1.7.4p4-2)
xserver-common (2:1.7.7-4 -> 2:1.7.7-6)
xserver-xorg-core (2:1.7.7-4 -> 2:1.7.7-6)
Follows 5 recently updated package(s) that you also could upgrade:
autopoint (0.18.1.1-1 -> 0.18.1.1-2)
gettext (0.18.1.1-1 -> 0.18.1.1-2)
gettext-base (0.18.1.1-1 -> 0.18.1.1-2)
login (1:184.108.40.206-1 -> 1:220.127.116.11+svn3283-1)
passwd (1:18.104.22.168-1 -> 1:22.214.171.124+svn3283-1)
Autopoint, gettext, login and passwd pending upgrades were already warned about yesterday. A second run will return no output since there is no other available upgrade not already warned about.