Ubuntu flavors offer a unique way to experience Ubuntu, and are part of what makes Ubuntu not just an operating system, but an ecosystem of Linux variations that promote choice and diversity. Flavors build around a common core experience, where it is immediately clear that you are using Ubuntu, and provide their own finesse on top.
Through its flavors and many other interesting projects, Ubuntu is a community of communities. True to the meaning of the word Ubuntu we all can achieve more than we would individually. We regularly collaborate to further our joint mission, directing our combined efforts toward the fundamental technologies that drive it.
One such fundamental aspect of any Linux distribution is packaging. Major distributions have all made opinionated choices to provide consistency in their ecosystem. Ubuntu builds on a foundation of deb packages and believes in the advantages of snaps. We aim to provide a secure and simple user experience and to make it easy to maintain packages. We collaborate with contributors from around the world to improve snaps and address remaining shortcomings, as they are an increasing part of the experience in Ubuntu. However, we also believe in a culture of openness where other packaging technologies are available and allow developers and users to explore different approaches.
In an ideal world, users experience a single way to install software. When they do so, they can expect that this mechanism is supported by the community and receives the majority of attention when it comes to resolving issues in software packages. When a new packaging technology is provided by default, there is an expectation that the distribution provides community support and is invested in contributing to development to resolve issues. This creates fragmentation instead of focusing on improving the technologies chosen for the distribution.
To maintain this focus while also providing user choice, Ubuntu and its flavors consider debs and snaps the default experience. Users have the freedom of choice to get their software from other sources, including Flatpak. A way to install these alternatives is, and will continue to be, available for installation from the Ubuntu archive with a simple command.
As part of our combined efforts, the Ubuntu flavors have made a joint decision to adjust some of the default packages on Ubuntu: Going forward, the Flatpak package as well as the packages to integrate Flatpak into the respective software center will no longer be installed by default in the next release due in April 2023, Lunar Lobster. Users who have used Flatpak will not be affected on upgrade, as flavors are including a special migration that takes this into account. Those who haven’t interacted with Flatpak will be presented with software from the Ubuntu repositories and the Snap Store.
We think this will improve the out-of-the-box Ubuntu experience for new users while respecting how existing users personalize their own experiences. However, we don’t want this to come as a surprise. If you have comments specific to this change you are welcome to respond here on discourse.
This message was written and published in collaboration with all official Ubuntu flavors.
I will be adding some questions that have come up more regularly here. There are further questions I’ve acknowledged and am working on a response for, please stay tuned.
Does this mean I won’t be able to use other technologies aside from deb packages and snaps? Will my existing Flatpaks be removed?
You are welcome to install other package managers using the software center or command line. These packages will continue to be available for installation, and we have no intention of changing that now or in the future.
We’ve added a special migration that checks if you have Flatpak packages installed or remotes configured. If so, flatpak and related software centre plugins won’t be auto-removed on an upgrade to Lunar Lobster. Therefore, you don’t need to be concerned about this change.
Does Flatpak being in the “archive” imply that it is going to be dropped?
No, the “archive” is the location where all Ubuntu packages live. We did not use the term “repository” here to avoid confusion with Flatpak repositories. The Flatpak package on Ubuntu is available in the universe repository of Ubuntu.
Does this mean Flatpak is being removed from older releases such as 22.04 and 22.10?
No, flavors are not actively removing package managers from the current or older releases. This change is for the upgrade to Lunar Lobster and beyond, where it is available but will not be installed by default in new installations.
I’m using a distro that is based on Ubuntu but not a flavor. Will these be affected as well?
While we appreciate if there is a focus on snaps and debs to contribute to Ubuntu’s foundational choices, this is a decision for each downstream distribution to make. There are no changes in availability of the packages that would impact distros without action on their own part.
What would you say the project’s position is on Ubuntu flavours as innovators, as ground breakers in trying out new technologies vs. a having a consistent foundational experience across all flavours? See this question in context
Flavors certainly have the opportunity to innovate in their field and try new technology, though there are practical limitations to this. One flavor requirement is that “[their] intention and goals are aligned with the goals of the Ubuntu project”. Given the breadth of technology in a Linux distribution it will be impossible to draw a clear-cut line or create a checklist policy. The more Ubuntu’s community governance bodies such as the Technical Board and Community Council describe these goals, the easier it will be for flavors to apply their own judgment on which technological choices should be included.
As technology becomes more experimental or may not align with Ubuntu’s goals, we welcome and encourage contributors creating remixes that go a step further, and even be in conflict with Ubuntu’s direction. Taking these alternative paths is healthy, because the userbase benefits from the competition. If experiments are successful, this is a good opportunity to bring the positive changes back into Ubuntu and its flavors, or use the results to influence design decisions. Ultimately this leads to better open source software for everyone.
This also applies to alternative choices in software package management. We welcome that others are exploring different approaches in their own distributions and are looking forward to seeing which design decisions will prevail.
How did this decision come to be? Was it Canonical imposing a direction?
The decision announced here is a result of building consensus among flavors. Canonical’s community team had reached out to flavor leads for an open discussion on default packaging in Ubuntu flavors. In each conversation, we presented our point of view regarding these changes and were open to discussion. While there were differences in initial agreement, in most cases the flavor representatives signaled willingness to make the changes by the end of the conversation. Some flavor leads had requested a joint announcement regarding these changes, to avoid a later surprise during or after the Lunar Lobster release.
We created an initial draft, and consequently asked each flavor lead and the Community Council for feedback and to suggest changes. They provided elaborate feedback which has substantially improved the clarity of the messaging. As a final step, we asked each flavor to sign off to signal they feel the content is accurate and are willing to stand behind the message.
As such, the decision to remove Flatpak from the default set was made together, not as a policy set by Canonical or Ubuntu’s Technical Board. We appreciate that flavors were open to making these changes, and look forward to collaborating with them further.