Flatpak is a missed opportunity

Please, take a look at the figures.

These 44 apps have been selected from various lists on the internet, and some that I use (Xonotic and Pulsar) have also been added.

List of apps

Symbols:
1 - newer
0 - not newer/unavailable
! - available only here

Android Studio 1/0
Audacious	   0/0
Audacity	   1/0
Blender		   0/0		
Chromium	   0/0
Clementine	   1/0
Digikam		   0/0
Discord		   0/0		
Element		   1/0
Evolution	   !/0
Firefox		   0/0
Flameshot	   0/0
GIMP		   1/0	
Handbrake	   1/0
Inkscape	   1/0
Itelij IDEA	   0/0
Kdenlive	   1/0
Keepassxc	   0/0
Kodi		   0/0
Krita		   0/0
LMMS		   !/0
Libreoffice	   0/0
MailSpring	   0/1
OBS Studio	   1/0
Okular		   1/0
Openshot	   0/0
Pidgin		   !/0
Plex desktop	   0/0
Pulsar		   !/0
PyCharm		   0/0
Qtcreator	   0/1
Signal		   1/0	
Simplenote	   1/0
Skype		   0/1
Slack		   0/0
Spotify		   0/0		
Steam		   1/0
Sublime Text	 0/1
Telegram	0/1
Thunderbird	0/0
VLC		0/0
VS Code		0/0
WPS Office	1/0
Xonotic		1/0

All information was checked through Snap Store and Flathub, the list was formed on the basis of this and this page.

Of the 44 applications Snap Store delivers with a probability of about 50% an outdated package/does not have it at all.

At the same time, in the case of flatpak, if the user encounters outdated software, it is rather an exception. And the software that is newer in snap is not much newer than that in flatpak.

I can continue to bring applications from GNOME Circle or some web browsers (Vivaldi, Edge, Librewolf), which simply do not exist on snap (or outdated), but I decided not to add them.

Also note that even official individual vendors (such as Inkscape) may still lag behind in publishing their applications in snap format.

If this is an insignificant indicator for you or not an indicator at all, then I ask everyone who reads this to check both this list and any software you need to make sure how much my arguments (and not only mine) about the popularity of snaps reflect reality.

Unfortunately, we can’t find out the popularity of users of other distributions at all, but according to Steam statistics, popularity is falling.

If we compare the indicator of November 2019 and June 2023, Ubuntu became the third after Arch Linux on Steam.

Given the rather abrupt and ambiguous actions of Canonical, as well as considering that other distributions do not stand still (for example, Fedora), well, this statistic, I now doubt which distribution is really the most popular on a desktop PC.

Well, yes. You are correct to point that out. There wasn’t a formal study. Hence why I said that one would have to study this issue first. The little data that I could find confirms my observations:
https://ubuntu-mate.community/t/poll-opinion-on-snaps-and-if-you-would-like-to-see-them-as-default/22848

https://www.reddit.com/r/linuxmasterrace/comments/wgghir/poll_snap_bad_snap_good/

It’s a really weak data but I can’t really find any that would suggest the opposite results or lead to a different conclusion including on the Ubuntu’s own sites as well.

As far as the distributions and developer perspectives are concerned I’ve found this article:
https://www.zdnet.com/article/linux-desktop-leaders-unite-behind-flathub-app-store-heres-why/

There is also no data at all to substantiate that. But I’d say it’s around 33%, yes that’s a lot. If we look at distrowatch Ubuntu is in the 8th place (but that’s Distrowatch, not really a good source).

But we do. And we do what we do for the benefit of our friends, family members and other users.

The idea behind the Snap Store model is to entice users with the benefits of open source software, such as transparency, community contributions, and the ability to modify the code. However, the closed source components or backend create a dependency or lock-in for users, making it difficult for them to migrate to alternative solutions or access the complete feature set without using the closed source components and that is highly controversial within the open source community as it can lead to concerns about vendor lock-in and the potential for losing the collaborative and community-driven nature of true open source projects.

So should the users care about that (rhetorical question)? I think they already do. And while that model works well on users of other platforms, Linux users tend to be more informed about those issues and are willing to forgo the benefits of using that kind of software for the preservation of the open source model.

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This leads me to think even more about the comment I made above. Even giants like Kodak and Nokia fell, they dominated the market and thought that the huge amount of users they had was enough to stay at the top, the haughtiness led them to ruin.

I fear Ubuntu is on the same path. Some indicators show the decline of Ubuntu, there is no longer the same passion that existed before, and there is even some aversion on the part of many people.

I hope I’m wrong, but some decisions don’t seem to help reverse this trend.

In my view it is a mistake if Canonical thinks that as it has a large share of the market they can do what they want without listening to their users.

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If you allow me… I’m a user… I’m not a software engineer but an engineer who does engineering things…
I have been an ubuntu user for more than 10 years and from time to time ubuntu is accused of breaking with the community (by not following redhat), with doing non-standard things and also that if ubuntu does not do x or y it will disappear.
So here’s my 5 cents… I’m not desperate to change where the software I use comes from, I just want it to work and occasionally discover something new. Now that’s deb+snap and I’m fine with that.

6 Likes

I appreciate your perspective as a long-time Ubuntu user and engineer. It’s essential to have a software environment that simply works and allows you to focus on your tasks without unnecessary disruptions.
You might have seen that those are also present or even to a higher degree achieved on other platforms such as Windows or macOS.

So why are we here then?

Usually or at least historically before all the corporatization started we were the people committed to the so called “Four Freedoms” which were clearly defined long before both Flatpak and Snaps ever existed in order to protect and maintain the ultimate rights in the hands of users just like you. And developers were committed to ensuring that for their users so that users can enjoy the benefits without thinking about those issues. And those went like this.

A program is “free software” if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

If software is licensed in a way that does not provide these 4 freedoms, then it is categorised as nonfree or proprietary.

Then somebody came up with a way to have his cake and eat it too by exploiting the free software in the following way; They designed the hardware that incorporated software released under the terms of a copyleft license like GNU GPL but used hardware restrictions or DRM to prevent users from running modified versions of the software on that hardware. The term for that was coined as Tivoization derived from the company TiVo notorious for that practice.

It is important to understand how this relates to today and Snaps. The Tivoization of the 2023 is the so called open core model.

Open core is a “bait-and-switch” tactic, and that it ultimately harms the free software community. It discourages users from learning about free software, and it makes it more difficult for developers to contribute to free software projects. It has been said that:

“Open core is a way to get people to use your software, and then to lock them in so they can’t escape. It’s a way to get people to work for you for free, and then to keep their work for yourself. It’s a way to take advantage of people’s good will and their desire to help others.”

Open core development and business models are usually seen as a threat to the free software community. They are considered unethical, anti-competitive, and ultimately harmful to users.

Now to my personal subjective thoughts. I think this is essentially what Snap vs Flatpak is about. To those who understand free software and to those who value the 4 essential freedoms open core that Snap uses is a disaster waiting to happen. I think that explains why Snap has been overwhelmingly rejected across the free software world. Because it is not actually free software. Or at least not yet. And while that might be overlooked for some other products, a package management is an essential piece in Linux desktop playing a crucial role. It is important that stays fully protected, distributed and FOSS. Just trying to imagine if Snap became a standard and then Microsoft buys Canonical gives me chills. Microsoft would essentially own the entire Linux desktop (in a proprietary way).

In order to preserve what we all love and value, I really hope Canonical employees and Mark himself remember where they came from and ensure that Snap can thrive as a fully open source project and enrich the entire ecosystem instead of giving us debates like this and fear for the future of free software distribution.

Big linux vendors such as Canonical play a huge role in shaping the Linux landscape without their support without their commitment to FOSS and to its users we will fail. We will screw up the last chance we had for a truly free software world or at least a corner of it. Once that happens, we’re no different than Windows or macOS and we’ve lost our only advantage. And then we die. Embrace, extend, extinguish style. We’re at the extend stage already with open core.

I hope I’ve given you enough of a reason to care about this issue. I know it’s not something a general user on other platforms cares about but we should and I truly hope whoever is reading this will as well.

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And that’s okay. You don’t see any reason to change anything, because for you everything is working as it should.

However, those who believe that you can get a much better experience are precisely arguing that the current state of affairs is not the best it can be.

And that’s exactly what this is about :slight_smile:

hello! i know the story and i know it’s important… but since linux is about “choice” if we eventually get to that ubuntu closes the store anda make a Walled garden … the source is free and there are other distributions… at that point if ever Whenever it arrives, I will make a decision to stay in Ubuntu or change to another distribution or to Windows/mac. Now, so much fighting for purity having a 3% market share is nonsense.

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I can understand that, but it is not clear to me that flatpack is the best option. The evidence that you cite in other posts is circumstantial… I say, that the best technology wins

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My goodness, the source is not free. That’s the entire problem. Snap store source is not free. It’s completely proprietary. That’s the only problem.

the software we use is free/open, gnome is open, libreoffice is open/free you can do whatever you want with them, use another completely open distribution and even create your own distribution. I wasn’t referring to snap and the store… we don’t have the same opinion about it… and that’s ok

3 Likes

Then you might have missed the entire topic of discussion. The discussion is specifically about packaging formats and means of software distribution.

There is no difference of opinion to be had. It’s either open source or it is not. And Snap store is not open source but literally closed source and proprietary. I don’t know what disagreement can be had about that? It’s like sky is blue, water is wet, snap store is closed source.

This is self-evident.

But what is the “best technology”?
And what is the “best technology” between snap and flatpak at the moment?
For you, of course.

For the end user, the “best technology” is the one that just works for him.
I have given above a list of applications that hints that flatpak software is more up-to-date and (useful?) more.
Regarding the stability of flatpak applications, I did not find such serious problems as snap has/had.

Considering all the advantages I mentioned above (and not only me), and also considering that there are already projects that offer to supply only flatpak packages (EndlessOS, Fedora SIlverblue/Kinoite/etc, openSUSE Aeon/Kalpa), flatpak is more than suitable for default delivery, at least as an option “if there is nothing else”.

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I think the subject is not the quality or popularity of snaps , but the fact that Canonical ( not Ubuntu community) does not want to let users adopt a popular technology like flatpak ( again just enable flatpakref file support at least )

Today when your open a flatpakref file you get

image

I’m sure we can do better in 24.04 ?

I don’t really see these points being debunked tbh.

  1. Software is easily discoverable the fact that GNOME apps might be missing doesn’t make the snap-store app or website ux worse.
  2. Again, the fact that not all devs are snapping their apps doesn’t mean its hard to publish on snap-store. It’s in fact pretty straightforward, with even the ability to package your source from GitHub per every commit. If a dev wants to publish on the store can do it easily, if not that’s ok. The easiness remains.
  3. Snaps are easy to built, especially compare to the likes of debs. Also the process is very well documented. The SNAPD team is running tests to ensure good compatibility across distros, sure issues will occur and that’s fine, they do on every project.

I use flatpaks too, they’re cool, but if we want to speak honestly Flathub still lags behind on the dev experience. Some app makers will choose despite the shortcomings to publish there but that doesn’t mean all its problems are fixed.

P.S.: Gnome apps are not everything.

7 Likes

I’ve read through the entire thread, and I’m sorry that the conversation has stalled on irreconcilable positions. Both formats have their reason for existence and their advantages and disadvantages. I don’t believe Canonical should give up developing snaps. I just think Canonical should recognize that flatpaks exist and are an important reality. That’s why I believe Ubuntu should be able to handle flatpaks when a user downloads one and that the Ubuntu graphical store should be able to display flatpaks if the user actively chooses to enable them. Making it difficult for users who want to use flatpaks won’t attract new users to Ubuntu; it will simply cause a migration to competing distributions and generate frustration and hate towards Canonical. In essence, I believe that without actively promoting its use, Ubuntu should be smart enough to know what to do to assist the user when their actions indicate a willingness to install a flatpak. If the user attempts to install a flatpakref or enables the flatpak package from the repositories, Ubuntu should interpret the user’s intent and automatically enable support for the format in its graphical app store. If the development team wants to set up alerts, reminding the user that flatpak software is not supported by Canonical, I don’t think anyone would have any objections.

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Yes as I said above , we at least want Ubuntu to ease normal user to be able to install flatpak at least via flatpakref files if their app store don’t list them

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