Batten down those controversy hatches (and stockpile some popcorn) because things are going down in Snap vs Flatpak town.
Alright, it’s not quite as bad. But today saw a controversial — if slightly premature — merge request to drop Snap support from GNOME Software.
Side-blinded? I am.
Snap Support on Borrowed Time?
As you probably know, Ubuntu Software, the default software app Ubuntu ship with, is based on GNOME Software. It’s mostly the same app save for a few Snap-specific tweaks (which we’ve mentioned before) and shipping with the Snap plugin by default.
In short, the “Snap” support it offers isn’t particularly egregious or wide-reaching.
But word on the street is that Ubuntu is prepping a brand new app store exclusively tailored to Snap apps for use in a future release (but separate from the Snap’d Snap Store snap)
This has made some devs who work on GNOME Software a little …twitchy.
Kalev Lember, the dev behind the merge request to nuke the 4000 or so lines of Snap support in GNOME Software, explains:-
“Ubuntu is switching to a new snap-store app for installing and removing snaps. This commit drops the snap backend from gnome-software to avoid maintenance overhead.”
Reasonable. Why should they shoulder the burden of working around Snap-specific code if Ubuntu, the only distro making use of it, don’t plan to use it longterm?
Ubuntu Confirms Snap Store Project
Canonical’s Robert Ancell calls the merge request “premature”, and adds that the new ‘Snap Store’ project referenced by the proposal is a mere 20 days old!
‘Ubuntu’, he says, ‘continues to ship GNOME Software with Snap support today.’
Lember accepts his request may be a little hasty, but cites the “maintenance overhead” of keeping Snap code in GNOME Software longterm. He also touches on the “politics”, writing:-
“Ubuntu is dropping gnome-software and by doing so, making it more difficult for users to install flatpaks. When we accepted snap support into gnome-software, it clearly weakened flatpak’s position, but we did so because we wanted to make it possible for Ubuntu to ship gnome-software and contribute back.”
“If Ubuntu is switching to something else instead of gnome-software, there is little point for us to continue to promote a technology that competes against GNOME’s flatpak.”
This is kinda the rub.
Ancell confirms that Ubuntu is working on some sort of custom Snap store not based on GNOME Software, Whether it’ll be ready in time for 19.10 or 20.04 or 20.10 is by-the-by: it’s coming.
What incentive is there for developers to work around code that is, effectively, soon to be superfluous to their needs?
Now, it’s unlikely that Snap support is going to be removed from GNOME Software 3.34, due later this year so do not let that be your take away from this.
And if even if Snap support was yanked out Ubuntu could choose to ship GNOME 3.32 or carry a distro patch to plumb Snap support back in.
What’s fascinating is that this merge proposal, in its haste, reveals there’s a line in the sand; Snap support in GNOME Software is effectively there as a favour contingent on Ubuntu playing ball.
I mean, we all know there are two opposing forces pulling in different directions here; the format war is clearly Snap vs Flatpak. It’s just the optics of seeing the politics writ out… Old divisions and all that.
I get the impressions Ubuntu devs walk on egg shells with a lot of their contributions and suggestions upstream. And this merge request kinda confirms it, don’t you think?