So, as might be predicted I suppose, some people wilfully disregarded the thrust of my argument, and turned it into a debate over specific packaging technologies.
OK, so that brings us to the question: what is so bad about SVR4 packaging, really?
I could go on for pages. One of the reasons I found OpenSolaris attractive was the prospect of being able to fix all the bad things with Installation and Packaging in Solaris. Let's takes some of the comments though:
old and clunky
Guilty as charged. Really, it is old. It is clunky. It's been neglected and unloved. It needs fixing. Those reasons alone aren't enough to dismiss it - the key question should be whether it can actually do the job.
missing lots of features
OK, so what features does dpkg have that SVR4 packaging doesn't? That's really the comparison - versus the dpkg or rpm commands.
enabler of dim-sum patching
Completely and utterly false. The problem with Solaris patching lies fairly and squarely in the domain of patching. This could trivially be solved without any changes to tools - either deliver whole packages, or simply institute a policy saying that you can't deliver changes to a package (or related set of packages) in independent patches. This is a process problem, not something inherent to the underlying package system.
Then there are more material objections:
no repository support
Actually, SVR4 packaging does have the ability to fetch and install packages from remote locations. (A crippling limitation of IPS is that it can't do anything else.) What's wrong with this picture is the lack of repositories - blastwave aside. Wouldn't it have been easier to simply make existing packages available on a web site, without having to retool everything?
lack of dependency resolution
As the success of dpkg/apt demonstrates, having your underlying packager do all the work is neither necessary nor desirable. What that does demonstrate is the requirement for more powerful tools above the base packager. Actually, separating the fancy interface from the tools doing the low-level work is probably a really good thing - it enables compatibility of the system over time even if the higher-level tools change, and it enables innovation by allowing independent components to be developed independently.
Actually, one of the key weaknesses of SVR4 packaging is not that it supports scripting, but that the support it offers is pretty poor. there is no real support - there ought to be a strong scripting framework with a well-defined environment, and predefined functionality for common tasks. Oh, and trigger scripts would be nice. Banning scripting (yet allowing it to sneak in through the back door) fails to solve the problem, and encourages bad workarounds.
poor package names
The actual package names are pretty much immaterial. Assigning real significance to them would be false. What matters is that they're unique and follow a scheme. As a user, you might want to install "php" - all that means is that the software studies the package metadata and works out what packages to really install. Actually having a pcakge with that name isn't necessary, and probably not even desirable (it locks you into current names and prevents evolution).
So, beyond a recognition in the codebase that the 21st century has arrived, and the lack of an apt-get/synaptic style front-0end - all of which could fairly easily be remedied - what is really wrong with SVR4 packaging?