Flatpak will no longer be available “out-of-the-box” in any of Ubuntu’s official flavors.
In a surprise move, Ubuntu developers have agreed to stop shipping Flatpak, preinstalled Flatpak apps, and any plugins needed to install Flatpak apps through a GUI software tool in the default package set across all eight of Ubuntu’s official flavors, as of the upcoming Ubuntu 23.04 release.
Ubuntu says the decision will ‘improve the out-of-the-box Ubuntu experience’ for new users by making it clearer about what an “Ubuntu experience” is.
They reason, someone using a flavor offering Flatpak might assume the tech receives the same level of support, bug fixes, and development attention as repo and snap apps do from Ubuntu’s community of developers or Canonical themselves.
Which is not the case.
As far as Ubuntu is concerned, only deb and snap software is intrinsic to the ‘Ubuntu experience’, and that experience now needs to be offered everywhere. Flavor leads (apparently) agree, and have all agreed to mirror regular Ubuntu by not offering Flatpak features in their default install for future releases.
Do keep in mind that “not installed by default” is not the same as “not available to install at all”.
To this end, Flatpak continues to be available in the Ubuntu repos, and users of Ubuntu flavors are free to install Flatpak (and any related packages) on their system, manually, as is their wont, anytime they like.
Additionally, Flatpak will not be uninstalled or removed when user makes the upgrade to Ubuntu 23.04 from a version where Flatpak is already present.
This is a controversial “agreement” — I know some will argue I’m making it controversial by covering it, but c’est la vie – cf. this site is banned from r/linux and I can guarantee they’ll be voicing opinions on it.
Thing is, while I can understand regular Ubuntu not wanting to ship Flatpak OOTB …flavors? Aren’t they, by their nature there to surface alternatives to the vanilla Ubuntu experience? To add and augment; plug gaps; cater to other needs? Flatpak seems like a pretty compelling one.
Ubuntu asking its flavors to stop using something because it doesn’t is a head scratcher. Flavors regularly use things Ubuntu doesn’t, things you could argue are more intrinsic to an “Ubuntu experience”, like installers, login managers, icon themes etc. Why single out Flatpak?
It’s not like Flatpak is an obscure library in
universe with 0.25 developers and an infrequent commit history. Flatpak is robust, actively developed, and well maintained (and spoiler: it’s also not going anywhere).
Now, I don’t care which side of the ‘Flatpak vs snaps’ fence you get your posterior splinters from. I’m a massive advocate of “use what works for you”. Snaps – great! AppImages – cool! Nix – have at it! PPAs only – you do you, babe.
But effectively blanket banning Flatpak by making this change, and not underpinning it with any sort of technical reason why it’s necessary, seems off.
Ubuntu is drawing an ideological line in the sand that no-one has asked it to make.