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Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Could Come with Snap Apps Preinstalled

Snaps in Bionic: brilliant idea or big mistake?

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS ‘Bionic Beaver’ could ship with Snap apps installed by default.

A proposal from Ubuntu developer Steve Langasek suggests that Snapcraft now stand as a ‘first-class’ alternative to traditional packages, making them ripe for inclusion.

“As more software becomes available as snaps, we want to take advantage of this body of packages as part of the default Ubuntu experience,” he writes.

As part of his proposal — which is just a suggestion for the moment, so don’t get excited/angry — Langasek wants to iron out policy and rules around seeded snap app. This is to ensure they are updated and maintained accordingly, inline with Ubuntu practice.

Snaps by Default

While Snaps by default would be something of a first for the regular version Ubuntu, it wouldn’t be a first in general. That honour goes to Ubuntu MATE 17.10, the first distro to ship with a preinstalled Snap app.

Seeded snaps are something of an obvious next step for Canonical’s fledgling package format — but do we, as users, really need Snap apps by default?

Ubuntu LTS: Long Term Snappiness

‘The biggest downside to running an Ubuntu LTS release is being stuck with out of date apps’

The biggest downside to running an Ubuntu LTS release is, as I’m sure you’re aware, the knowledge that you’re going to be stuck running out-of-date apps, on older versions of common dependencies.

Even good old PPAs often reach a point at which they have to stop supporting LTS releases because of one reason or another.

Now, admittedly, LTS users choose a long-term support release for its commitment to stability rather than release churn. But it’s often the case that users are left running older versions of software that, for all intents, either weren’t intended to be ‘LTS’ versions, or don’t benefit from being stuck in time.

Like LibreOffice, for example.

Having a reliable foundation on which to run the latest version of apps like LibreOffice is, in some ways, more attractive to some than having a reliable foundation on which to run an ‘frozen in time’ version of LibreOffice.

Snaps can bring the benefits of app updates without the “risk” to the underlying foundation. It is, in many ways, the best of both worlds: the repos remain ‘frozen’ in time so to speak, while Snaps can muscle on into modernity.

Drawbacks to Snap apps exist too

‘Snap apps open slower than my front door does to the postman in the morning’

In an ideal world an Ubuntu user wouldn’t be able to tell whether they’re using a Snap app, a Flatpak app, an Appimage, or something compiled by hand. An app should look the part, work fine, and integrate accordingly.

However…

In my experience Snap apps stick out like a sore thumb. They generally look odd, be it through a lack of GTK theme integration, an ugly toolbar or menu, a missing app icon, or a more subtle “tell”, like iffy fonts.

Snap apps also open slower than my front door does to the postman at 7 AM.

And I haven’t mentioned a) the ridiculous install size of Snaps or b) the lack of control over updates (not all of us are on unlimited data plans that invisible auto-updating Snaps can feast on, Canonical).

I’ll let you write your own joke about a pre-installed Snap app doubling the size of the Ubuntu ISO image.

Plus, all of the ‘sandboxed’ security benefits Snaps tout are, by and large, moot under Xorg (which Ubuntu is switching back to). Plus if you want an app that actually functions properly (e.g, Skype, Slack, Spotify, et al) you have to run it in –classic mode — a mode which also disables Snap confinement.

Do you want Snaps apps by default?

As you can see, there are benefits to having Snaps by default in Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, but it’s not the seamless nirvana that Snapvocates say.

Would you like to see Snap apps preinstalled on Ubuntu? And if you do, which apps in particular would make sense as Snaps? Share your thoughts in the comments.