[Update, 2:00 pm ET, May 31: Ubuntu published a blog post about its Ubuntu Core desktop work after this Ars Technica post was published. Noting that Snaps “are a little famous for having some rough edges on the desktop,” Product Manager Oliver Smith writes that, “[n]evertheless, we are excited to explore the idea of a fully containerised [UK sic] desktop, where each component is immutable and isolated.” Ubuntu, Smith writes, has been “steadily improving” desktop snaps, and, “in due course, when we think the entire system can be delivered this way,” a desktop Core version will be offered.
Ubuntu’s post suggests that a Core-based desktop would allow for “secure boot, recovery states and hardware backed encryption,” experiments “with alternative desktop environment snaps,” and opting in to certain kernel channels, such as those with the latest NVIDIA drivers. Original post follows.]
Ubuntu Core has existed since 2014, providing a fully containerized, immutable Linux distribution aimed at Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing applications. Each piece of the system contains all the dependencies it requires, and just enough of its own tiny Linux architecture, that applications are largely sandboxed from one another, providing better security and, in theory, stability and ease of upgrades and rollbacks.
That kind of system, based on Ubuntu distributor Canonical’s own Snap package format, could be available for desktop users with the next Ubuntu Long Term Support release, according to an Ubuntu mobile engineer. Pointing to a comment in one of his prior posts, Ubuntu blogger Joey Sneddon suggests that an optional “All-Snap Ubuntu Desktop” will be available with Ubuntu 24.04 in April 2024.
It’s important to note that a Snap-based Ubuntu would seemingly be an alternate option, not the primary desktop offered. DEB-based Ubuntu would almost certainly remain the mainstream release.
“Ubuntu to offer alternate version for download” wouldn’t normally be much of a headline, but this is Snap. Snap was developed by Canonical, and Canonical offers Snaps through its own Snap Store. It has been ported to other distributions. And yet, as Ars contributor Jim Salter noted in late 2021:
[T]here is a common perception outside the Ubuntu ecosystem that the snap system “belongs to Canonical, not to the community,” and that tends to lead—rightly or wrongly—to suspicion or outright hostility from fans of other distributions.
Then there are the other complaints, including disk space usage, loading and performance issues, erratic Snap updating behavior, multiple versions of libraries running for different programs, and file-chooser confusion. Ask an Ars writer who once wrote about a Snap-ified version of Steam and thought he had disclaimed the nature and complications around Snap enough: There is never enough Snap disclaiming.
Still, a version of Ubuntu that is inherently difficult to mess up at a core level and more consistent across installations is intriguing. Fedora offers this with Silverblue, which is based on Flatpak [Edit: More so based on OSTree, and shipping with Flatpaks by default; thank you spiron and AdamWill]. Silverblue, Fedora claims, is “more stable, less prone to bugs, and easier to test and develop.” It also keeps older versions of the system (itself just a containerized Flatpak) for rollback and restoration.
Ubuntu has been moving to push some pieces of the mainstream Ubuntu desktop into Snap packages, be they CUPS printer drivers or even graphics drivers. Whether desktop users adopt and push an entirely Snap-based Ubuntu desktop forward—and whether it actually becomes available in April 2024—remains to be seen.
We’ve reached out to Canonical for comment and confirmation and will update the post if we hear back.
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