Originally posted in a forum comment, it was confirmed in a blog post: Canonical will soon jump on the unchanged distribution bandwagon.
Snap lead developer Oliver Gravert casually dismissed the announcement in a comment on the popular OMG Ubuntu site, but the news was confirmed the very next day in a lengthy and very detailed blog post by Oliver Smith, Ubuntu’s desktop product manager. Starting with the next LTS release next April, numbered version 24.04, the standard Ubuntu desktop distribution will be joined by a new immutable desktop version based on the existing Ubuntu Core immutable distribution.
Why is it important?
This means several times. First, even though this is a new product for Ubuntu, it is no brand new distribution. although Ubuntu Core is not as popular as Ubuntu, it is an established product that has been around for years. We looked at the then-new release about a year ago; it was Core 22, the fourth release. So, while Canonical has yet to officially confirm what the name of the new product will be, it will be based on Core 24, with additional packages on top to provide a graphical desktop. Canonical’s GitHub repository already has an experimental build of what will likely be the new desktop version.
Second, we already know a little about it and can safely make a few predictions. For example, we know it will use the GNOME desktop because that’s the only official Ubuntu offering. Some other flavors may of course follow their unchanged versions. The Ubuntu Unity server already has its own immutable distribution called blendOS, for example.
It is also important to consider the context of the existing invariant distributions, of which there are already quite a few. One of the longest running is Endless OS, version 5 of which we reviewed earlier this year. The Red Hat-sponsored Fedora project has several iterations, including Silverblue (GNOME) and Kinoite (KDE), soon to be joined by the recently announced Onyx, a new stable edition based on the Budgie desktop.
The problem with all of this, however, is that they need two toolchains for software distribution: one, OStree, for installing and maintaining the operating system itself, and a completely separate one, Flatpak, for the applications that run on top of it. (The other alternative, of course, is the ChromeOS route: you can’t install native, native apps at all. Admins can opt for Android apps, and techies get a Debian container and whatever luck they might need. Use it.)
We’ve discussed OStree before. It uses a model derived from the Git version control system to distribute operating system binaries. Like Git itself, it’s very clever, sophisticated, clever, and yet few people fully understand how Git works under the hood. Flatpak protected by Red Hat too uses a similar and related toolchain to do its job… only it doesn’t work as well for command line applications. Flatpak is strongly aimed at graphical desktop applications. As we’ve discussed before, we think we should specifically mention that tools like OStree and Flatpak are backed by Red Hat, as this explains some of the technology choices they make. they are a direct result of the fact that Red Hat does. currently do not have a next generation file system capable of copy-write glasses.
Somewhat paradoxically, while Canonical had been experimenting with a COW-capable filesystem in the form of ZFS for several years, it now seems to have shelved it. However, Snap has been around all that for a long time; it was designed for Ubuntu Phone. Each Snap package is a single, highly compressed file, of course
.RPM packages when you think about it. Instead of opening them and spraying their contents across the file system, Snap stores them in their entirety and mounts them to run their contents.
As such, our third conclusion is also very safe. Ubuntu Core is already based on Snap packages. It is Snap all the way and does not include any other packaging system. We also know that Ubuntu remixes are no longer allowed to include Flatpak. So it’s sure to be the same for the desktop version of Core; it will use Snap, all Snap and nothing but Snap. No Flatpak and no APT.
Although many dislike Snap and Snap-packaged apps, Snapcraft’s tooling is pretty mature and works. Unlike Flatpak, Ubuntu’s Snappy tools are equally suitable for packaging command-line programs and operating system components. So, unlike all other immutable distributions, the desktop edition of Core will have a single packaging system used across the entire OS.
So even though it’s new, the upcoming Core Desktop (whatever it’s called) will have some advantages over its existing legacy competitors. As an Ubuntu Core release, it will be the fifth release. Canonical already has Core 16, 18, 20 and 22 out there and working in the field.
The invariant distribution model is also exceptionally well proven; that’s basically how both iOS and Android work. Phone vendors on the Fondleslab marketplace regularly release full OS images. An Android update, for example, is a fully installed copy of the OS, and the end user cannot change a single byte. You don’t even get an administrator account or access to the operating system section. It is effectively a sealed unit. In addition, applications are also sealed units; they can be installed, updated, and removed again, all without making any changes to the underlying OS. So when you get an OS update, you can install it safe in the knowledge that it won’t affect any of your apps. It’s not how desktop Linux users are used to working, but it already has billions of happy users out there.
At this point, it’s worth noting that there is a whole other family of immutable distributions: SUSE and the openSUSE microOS domain. The OpenSUSE project recently renamed two of its desktop distributions. The GNOME version is now called Aeon and the KDE edition is called Kalpa.
Unlike Red Hat, SUSE doing have a COW filesystem, and its immutable offerings exploit it thoroughly. At the cost of relying heavily on Btrfs, SUSE is able to offer OS snapshots, transactional package installation, and version rollback, all using its next-generation file system capabilities. None of these require new package formats or elaborate tools like OStree layered on top of the file system. This makes for a simpler, cleaner stack. However, desktop products use Flatpak to install apps.
It’s interesting to note that Canonical’s official blog post announcing the new unchanged desktop goes into considerable depth about competing offerings, including ChromeOS, Fedora Silverblue, and SUSE distributions using their new names, no less. It’s also subtitled “More Atomic,” which may be a sly dig at Red Hat’s original unmodified operating system effort, Project Atomic, which was shelved after Big Purple acquired CoreOS.
On the one hand, we find it very refreshing to see a company in the Linux space openly and knowingly discuss its competitors and their technologies. Other enterprise Linux vendors usually go out of their way to avoid mentioning or even admitting that competitors exist. When? rule The FOSS office asked Red Hat representatives how their products stack up against rival distributions, for example, and they typically respond with a shrug, followed by an adamant adamant refusal to speculate about any other vendor or their product.
On the other hand, entering the unmodified desktop market relatively late, well aware of existing competitors, and perhaps with a simpler but more capable and better integrated software suite could clearly work in Canonical’s favor. In terms of integration, customization and polish, as well as end-user polish, Ubuntu still has an edge over almost every other desktop Linux distribution. The only other distributions that can really compete with it are based on it. Judging by Canonical’s willingness to engage and discuss others’ technologies, it may be that Ubuntu enters the unmodified-distro space with a better proposition than any of the incumbents.
We suspect that the desktop release of Ubuntu Core will primarily be pitched to paying enterprise customers, perhaps those looking to convert existing fleets of desktop machines and thin-clients that previously ran Windows. For example, a ransomware attack is a sales opportunity that Google has used to its advantage to sell its ChromeOS Flex offering thus far. One of the benefits of ChromeOS Flex is that it can be managed with Google’s existing management toolkit for its fleet of ChromeBooks.
Canonical already has its own Landscape management toolkit for Ubuntu, Ubuntu Server, and Ubuntu Core, but unlike Google, Canonical isn’t trying to sell any kind of cloud-based application or service for its OS offerings. following. It’s obviously too early to tell, but this new offering could potentially give Canonical a big boost in enterprise desktop adoption… and that in turn could be the thing that propels its Snapcraft format and app store to much greater success. ®
Don’t believe the FUD. Of course, there is only one official public Snap store, but having one public outlet no means Snap is proprietary. It is not so. We’ve already covered a proof-of-concept stand-alone public snap store, though it’s gone now. At the Ubuntu Summit, we also spoke with representatives from companies that operate their own private Snap Stores to deploy software and updates to fleets of Ubuntu Core instances. It’s entirely possible to create, sign, publish, and share your own Snaps, and all the tools to do so are included in the distribution, and they’re all open source.