Canonical recently confirmed its intentions to launch an all-snap Ubuntu desktop image next year — but you don’t have to wait until then to try it out.
If you scoot along to the Ubuntu Core Desktop GitHub page, check out the actions tab, find a (completed) build job, then scroll down to the ‘artefacts’ you’ll see a ZIP. Download and extract the ZIP, then extract the tarball inside.
Et voila: a ~12GB image you can boot in a VM1 or flash to a USB drive (16GB+).
All of this is public knowledge thanks to ex-Canonical employee (and immutable distro champion) Jorge Castro. Ubuntu’s Ken VanDine popped around Jorge’s gaff to show him progress on the all-snap sandboxed desktop effort and Jorge tooted about it at length.
—I know, right: there you were about to congratulate me on my first big scoop™ 🍦 in, what, a decade? Still, other Linux blogs will be relieved they don’t need to acknowledge this site’s existence if covering this news. It’s okay guys, you can pretend you heard about this elsewhere 😘.
For those not aware, an all-Snap Ubuntu desktop is going to be released next April, alongside Ubuntu 24.04 LTS. However, it will NOT be the default version of Ubuntu 24.04 but an “alternative” download people have to knowingly go-out-of-their-way to download.
Which is a good job as Ubuntu Core behaves rather differently to a standard Ubuntu desktop install.
So what do we know about Ubuntu Core Desktop (as I’m choosing to call it for now)? Courtesy of Jorge the following:
- Always uses an LTS base (so, right now, 22.04)
- Runs as an lxc container
- Cloud-native “Workshop” terminal (think DistroBox)
- Use channels for kernels, DEs, graphics drivers
- Ships Flutter-based software store by default
- Sandboxed but classic snaps run fine
- You can install other DEs (inc. different versions of the same one)
Jorge says from his hands-on that “resource usage is better than with classic ubuntu by a measurable amount”. That could be a unique selling point (as heck knows it’ll need one to win over those of us less-than-sold on snaps).
I can’t say own hands on experience was as revelatory. However, I did run the image off a generic USB 3.0 drive plugged in to my (not exactly top spec) Chuwi AeroBook Pro. Your mileage will, as they say, vary.
I also hit a lot of snafus after getting to the desktop.
I presume most of this is a mix of snap portal/permission mismatches, bugs (this isn’t stable, remember), and missing pieces. The set-up wizard didn’t add me as a root user so I couldn’t install apps using apt via CLI, but I could from the included Snap Store.
As the underlying system is immutable I (presume) the idea is that you’re not supposed to drop to a CLI to run commands (though Jorge says PPAs and DEBs should continue to work apt wasn’t a recognised command when I tried so guess we’ll find out in time).
It will also be possible to mix-and-match components as you see fit.
For instance, you might want an older version of GNOME with the latest Linux kernel and a specific MESA graphics driver release. This agility enables the same underlying version of Ubuntu to work in vastly different ways, for different needs.
Though support for Flatpak is, as of writing, TBD 💀.
So if you’re inclined, go grab the artefact (Indian Jones’ style) and start playing around — just keep in mind this is all in a state of flux. Be sure to pop back and let me know what you think of it.
1 The included README walks through the whole process for booting in a VM. Alternative you can flash the .IMG file to a USB drive using a tool like Etcher, and boot from this on a real laptop/PC. Regardless of which way you choose the initial process will be very slow and the boot may appear unresponsive for an extended period. It also needs to restart once as part of the process. Again, all in the README.