The State of Windows Package Managers (2021)

Windows Package Managers

Using Linux has spoiled me when it comes to easily installing software. The fact that there is a default package manager for every distro can be taken for granted sometimes. There are lots of open source, community driven package managers for proprietary systems as well.

Mac users boast homebrew, as their de facto package manager, but what about Windows? Well I’ll tell you – Windows has had a few package managers over the years.

I’ll briefly go over the 3 most popular ones:

  • winget (2019, 10.5k stars, 263 commits)
  • Chocolatey (2014, 7.2k stars, 3000 commits)
  • scoop (2013, 12.5k stars, 9832 commits)

WinGet – “The” Windows Package Manager

Summary

Microsoft’s winget is the most recent on the list and is still in ‘preview’, but is likely going to take over package management on Windows once it becomes stable and more mature. How long that takes I can’t say, but it seems like development is going at a steady pace.

Installing

Installing winget includes a few extra steps compared to the other package managers (if you’re not a “Windows Insider”). Part of the reason being Microsoft shifting the way they package new apps. They are moving away from older formats like .msi to .appxbundle or .appx.

Why does this matter?

The impact: we must install the App Installer package from the Microsoft store before installing winget with this new installer format so we can install programs without clicking through a GUI.

After that, you can go to the releases page on GitHub and download the latest stable or preview build (remember the file will be a .appxbundle)

There may be an install script to do this, but I’ll just chalk it up to being in public “preview”.

Number of Packages

Doing winget search | wc -l gives me 1244 packages total. Not too bad. It seems like they have prioritized the most popular Windows apps.

Other thoughts

Good

  • I have to give props on how fast searching is compared to the other tools (the project is written in C++).

Bad

Chocolatey

Summary

Chocolatey is another super popular package manager for Windows. On GitHub the project has around 7k stars and almost 3,000 commits.

Installing

To install Chocolatey, you run this command in an Elevated (Administrator) PowerShell session.

Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol -bor 3072; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))

The command just allows PowerShell to download and run a script from the internet

Number of Packages

Chocolatey reports “There are 8170 Community Maintained Packages” on their website ranging from oldest most obscure programs to the hottest and newest apps. As far as I know, this is the largest collection of searchable/installable Windows programs on the whole internet.

Someone even keeps an up-to-date package for Dwarf Fortress, which is just awesome.

Scoop

Summary

scoop is probably the package manger I have the least personal experience with, but I know many people find it the easiest way to install things on Windows. There are community made “buckets”, which are similar to software repositories. Users can decide which buckets to use and even contribute to add programs or fix bugs.

Installing

Installing scoop similar to installing choco. It just require downloading and running and installer script:

Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned -scope CurrentUser
Invoke-Expression (New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://get.scoop.sh')

Number of Packages

Counting the number of packages for scoop is less straight forward than winget or choco because the different “application buckets”, but the “main” bucket has ~800 packages and “extra” bucket has ~1200 packages. There are also other buckets for “games” and “nonportable”.

Final Thoughts

It seems like winget will most likely be the windows package manager going into future versions of Windows, but it’s not ready for prime time yet, and I would argue it has quite a ways to go before reaching feature parity with the other tools.

There are still bugs, there’s no direct way to install it yet (unless you’re an insider), it has less than half of the packages of other projects and lots of missing features, but it’s also been in development a year.

In my opinion, the other two package mangers will have an edge on winget in terms of stability, features, community and number of packages for some time to come. Feel free to tell me what you think :)