09.11.20

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Calling ‘Snaps’ and ‘Flatpaks’ What They Really Are: Ramps for Proprietary Software Inside GNU/Linux (the ‘App’ Mindset)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Red Hat, Ubuntu at 3:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Do we want GNU/Linux distros to become another Android with centralised (monopolised) ‘stores’ as opposed to repositories of Free/libre software everyone can modify and redistribute freely? Do we want “Steam” (DRM) for software?

Summary: Canonical’s gravitation towards the whole ‘store’ mindset (and Red Hat’s equivalent of that) seems to have raised concerns among and amidst developers of the Linux Mint project; they try hard to prevent users from adopting Canonical’s ‘store’ and there’s an explanation (above) of why that’s the case

THE RPM/DEB ‘wars’ can be found way back… going back to the 1990s. Debian-Private, which we started publishing a fortnight ago, is full of that. Many threads contain arguments over Red Hat’s ambition versus Debian’s. Now we have new kinds of packaging wars, with the Debian-based Ubuntu pushing ‘Snap’ (snapd) and Red Hat/Fedora pushing ‘Flatpak’ (used to require systemd). They’re hostile towards one another — since launch in fact! — and there are reasons to be suspicious of both.

“…the problem that Canonical is trying to solve is perhaps a business model problem rather than a technical problem.”The above interview (like the video) was published earlier this week and the latter speaks of ‘Snaps’ being snubbed by Linux Mint. There are reasons for that shunning. Alluding to Flatpak at one point, there’s that similar discussion about new ‘standards’ for packaging. Flatpak’s back end isn’t as proprietary… but now it’s IBM-led and there’s a close connection to Microsoft through GitHub. Probably not something worth running as root…

SolitudeThe more interesting part of this interview deals with why Mint developers went as far as making it very difficult to adopt ‘Snaps’. It also explains the purpose of Mint’s Debian-based fallback, which obviously uses apt/apt-get/aptitude/dpkg/deb etc. and does not depend on companies like Canonical.

The last minute of this video is perhaps the most interesting. It’s about Mint developers going out of their way to prevent or at least make it rather hard to install ‘Snaps’, many of which are proprietary software. It’s rightly noted that no distribution stands in the way of installing proprietary software to the extent Mint developers stand in the way of ‘Snaps’, but perhaps they correctly view this as Canonical’s power grab, emulating Google, Apple, and Microsoft.

Over the years I’ve experimented (a number of times on a number of machines) with ‘Snaps’ and I never found it particularly reliable; it wasn’t clear to me what the selling point was (other than, perhaps on the misguided side, domination of the server-side stack/software by one company).

‘Snaps’ are managed by proprietary software at the server (not client) side and they sometimes are, themselves, proprietary software as well. That in its own right ought to be a little alarming; the problem that Canonical is trying to solve is perhaps a business model problem rather than a technical problem. Even more than a decade ago Canonical came under fire for selling proprietary software as a business model (or reselling it on behalf of other companies). If those companies insist that this is necessary for “world domination” or whatever, then it means they disregard software freedom (in the same way Google does) and actually mean something like “financial sustainability” (for themselves). Attaining that so-called “world domination” (lots of proprietary ‘apps’ and whatnot) wouldn’t be unprecedented. Google has already done that with Android, whose overall market share exceeds Windows’. If we lose sight of software freedom and instead focus only on “market share”, then all we do is add another brand (like “Apple” or “Mac”) to the mix while failing to address paradigm changes or real threats. Almost nobody out there can argue that Android being widespread has been good for software freedom; sure, many people not have Linux on their small computers, but those computers mostly spy on them and let them access proprietary stuff managed closely (and often censored) by one company. Success should be measured in terms of principles (like software freedom) rather than “market share”, which can be seductive/alluring when one is accustomed to being a niche player for years if not decades. This whole immorality has already infected a number of key organisations, including the Linux Foundation, which is nowadays openly shilling for and outsourcing to Microsoft (GitHub and IIS) because its sole goal is to maximise revenue, not to help Linux.

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