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:
- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
- 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.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour.
- 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.