Ubuntu has made yet another controversial decision, dropping out-of-the-box (OOTB) support for Flatpak apps.
Flatpak is one of the newer methods of packaging Linux applications, one that is distro agnostic. Regardless of whether a user is on Ubuntu, Debian, Arch, Fedora, openSUSE, Slackware, or any of the others, as long as they have the Flatpak backend installed, any and all Flatpaks will work on their distro of choice.
Flatpaks directly compete with Snaps, Ubuntu’s own attempt to build a distro-agnostic packaging format. Unfortunately for Ubuntu, Snaps are not nearly as popular as Flatpaks. In fact, while some distributions may offer both package managers OOTB few, if any, offer Snaps but not Flatpak.
It appears Ubuntu plans to be the first, announcing its decision to drop OOTB support for Flatpaks in the upcoming 23.04 Lunar Lobster release.
Philipp Kewisch, Canonical Community Engineering Manager, broke the news:
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.
Kewisch makes clear that the update will not delete Flatpak from existing installations, and the package format will still be available for users that want to install it manually. Nonetheless, the decision to remove OOTB support is in-line with the company’s belief that Flatpak doesn’t properly fit in with the “Ubuntu experience.”
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.
There are a number of reasons Snaps are not as popular as Flatpaks, among users and distro maintainers. One of the big ones is the fact that Snaps can only be installed via Ubuntu’s Snap Store. As a result, while the apps themselves may still be open source, the store they are available in is not.
Another reason many users don’t like Snaps is because of performance. Compared to Flatpaks and native packages, many snaps are notoriously slow to start for the first time. In fact, Canonical’s own Snap Advocate, Alan Pope, left the company and created an app to help users migrate their Snaps to Flatpaks.
In recent years, Ubuntu has come under increased criticism for being so focused on the server and IoT market that it is no longer the best distro for desktop users, a distinction it held for years.
This latest decision is sure to add fuel to that fire.