Snaps and Flatpaks

There are some interesting discussions online about snaps and flatpaks.

My observation is, generally, most experienced Linux users are not in favor of the packaging schemes. Reasons vary but include:

  • Increased disk storage.
  • Higher RAM consumption because of not using shared libraries.
  • Apps tend to launch slower.
  • More challenging to sandbox.
  • A lack of upstream security auditing.
  • A lack of quality control.
  • Breakage with desktop themes.
  • Snaps are controlled upstream and tend to endorse proprietary thinking.
  • The upstream Ubuntu folks force snap package updates.
  • Somehow snapd seems to get reinstalled after users remove.
  • A focus on creating an app store, which seems contrary to free/libre principles.

Although an argument is possible that packaging certain free/libre software using snaps and flatpaks is more portable, the primary motive seems to be to accommodate commercial vendors. One of the significant problems with commercial software, especially with smart phones and tablets, is the sheer mountain of data mining and tracking. Vendors seem incapable of resisting that urge. Embedding that thinking into free/libre operating systems is repugnant to many people.

A similar concern with commercial vendors is often they cannot be trusted. A common goal these days is not producing the best product but locking people into something called software as a service (SaaS). Snaps and flatpaks seem to support that strategy.

The overall idea of these packaging systems seems reasonable and sane, which is to provide vendors an easier way to package software for any distro. An alleged common complaint among vendors is trying to package software for the many distros. This seems a bit of a red herring. There are only four basic packaging formats: deb, rpm, tar.gz, and compiling from raw source code.

Possibly a strong argument is, unlike Windows, free/libre software generally is not well suited for long term backwards compatibility. Notably, software created 30 years ago for Windows likely still functions perfectly on any modern Windows system. This is not the case with free/libre software, where breakage is common and normal, often requiring patching and recompiling. The idea of snaps and flatpaks seems to overcome that concern, but that opens new concerns about long term security. Many software vendors have shown that security patching is not a high priority.

I wonder if snaps and flatpaks are solutions looking for a problem.

Posted: Category: Commentary, Usability Tagged: General

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