I’m two large soya lattes into my day and I’m yet to write anything about the “hot topic” of the moment: Flatpak.
So, I’ve decided to go rogue.
I’m going to write for the sake of writing (which is, according to some of the overly enthusiastic creative blogs I read, one way to work through writer’s block).
Now, please appreciate that there are plenty of things I could/should write about instead of Flatpak, but neither ‘could’ nor ‘should’ are much motivation on their own.
What follows may not be coherent, and it certainly won’t be well written.
But I need to get something down.
‘People are expecting me to have an opinion’
My inbox and social media streams are jammed packed with questions, conspiracy theories, and hate mail on it, so clearly trying to avoid covering it at all isn’t a viable course of action.
‘Flatpak is heralded as the ‘future of application distribution”
It’s a button issue in the Linux community right now, and people are expecting me to have an opinion on it. To pick a side. To tell them to pick a side.
Now (mercifully) there’s a high chance that all you reading this already know, roughly, what Flatpak is. The project used to be called xdg-app, if that rings any bells.
Like Snappy, apps packaged as Flatpaks (paks?, flats?) are cross-distribution, bundled runtimes, and come with a bunch of (potential) security bonuses. They were heralded in a press release yesterday as “the future of application distribution”.
And you’ve every reason to expect me to write about about them because, more than bringing a single-digit percentile among you up to speed, coverage would add color and context to our future coverage of Snappy and other related projects like App Image and Orbital apps.
So why am I finding it so tough?
Why I Haven’t Written about Flatpak Yet
It’s certainly not because of some default pro-Snappy bias built-in to me. And it certainly isn’t an intentional missive against a project because it’s made by a company who compete with Canonical.
No, the reason I’m yet to write about Flatpak is due to something far more human: confidence, and a little bit of battle-weary fatigue.
At a superficial level I think I know what Flatpak is and how it differs from the Canonical-backed Snappy. But, like a kid who wakes mid-lesson, I don’t feel confident in sharing my answer with the whole class!
And this lack of confidence isn’t entirely unwarranted.
It pays to remember that Flatpak, like Snappy, is under active development and is not a finished, polished, and ready-to-roll standard. Blanks on how app packagers will be able to make full use of it benefits (sandboxing, etc.) are yet to be filled in.
Why I have Written about Snappy
Saddled up against my lack of confidence in the subject matter is a sense of expectation that because I wrote about Snap apps last week I have to write about Flatpak apps this week.
The problem is… Canonical made things really easy.
In a live, pre-announcement press briefing Mark Shuttleworth and big-wigs from Dell, Samsung, Krita were on hand to explain, spotlight and talk through Snap apps, its strengths, its goals, and how it can help to ease the fragmentation of Linux app distribution, and so on.
They spoke as much about what Snappy will do as much as what it can (currently) do.
As I am far less steeped in distribution engineering than I ought to be this briefing was invaluable for me and gave me the confidence to write about it.
I had the opportunity to sound out the announcement, choose my angle, and fill any gaps in knowledge, all before the the official announcement was made. Like most embargoes, this gave me chance to prepare. To be able to tell you about the news with something approaching an informed look on my face.
The Flatpak press release arrived quietly yesterday alongside the more visible release of Fedora 24. I received no heads-up about it, nor any invitation to speak to developers to ask questions.
In fact, by the time I was aware the announcement had been made — thanks to everyone who sent a tip in — I was already too late; the narrative on it had been firmly constructed.
Welcome to Snappy vs Flatpak.
The Internet Laughs When Asked: “Can They Coexist?”
Can two competing, and subtly different, solutions to the same problem coexist peacefully?
It seems “the internet” has already decided that no, they can’t.
One GNOME developer already going as far as to call for a debate on whether to even allow Snappy into the Fedora archives at all, arguing that to do so would “undercut” Redhat’s effort:
“We …need to discuss, whether to allow that snapcore package into Fedora proper; there’s a strong argument to be made that we should accept all free software, but doing that could undercut our Flatpak effort. If popular upstreams start distributing snaps, then we’ll probably have to support it, though.
“It’d be quite unfortunate to support two competing desktop containerization solutions,” they add.
Is that from a technical standpoint or a monetary one? Which side am I supposed to be on? What if I don’t have enough information to decide?
Red Hat is a very profitable Linux company, and Canonical is, well, less so. But neither Flatpak nor Snappy are going to make their parent companies much money (they are free software, and cross-platform). Surely the for’s and against’s aren’t being drawn against old distro lines?
Get To The Point, Sneddon
I am late to the party. Short of regurgitating the press release issued yesterday (and linked to below) there’s little appreciable value I can add to the commentary that has not already spilled out in favour of the ‘us vs them’ model.
This is now, apparently, a war. I’m expected to pick a side. You’re either with ’em or against ’em. It doesn’t matter that both products have yet to actually achieve most of their lofty claims, much less explain why downloading a 200MB runtime is preferable to adding a PPA and installing an 50MB update…
But internet, don’t let facts or reason get in the way. Go ahead and pledge fealty to one side or risk being labelled a shill for the other.
Writing a blog (this one) that people (like you) read comes with a set of challenges, pressures and expectations. And as much as I may sometimes want to write about a topic (and as much as you may want me to write about them) sometimes… I just don’t have anything to say.