Solus Linux Joins The Flatpak Camp

Ikey Doherty, the founder and lead developer behind the Solus Project recently announced in a blog post that his distro would be supporting Flatpak. This is a major win for the Flatpak ranks in the war for a “universal Linux installer”.

Solus Linux will be using Flatpak

What is Flatpak?

Unless you just started using Linux or you spent the last couple of years living in a very dark cave, you probably have heard about the drive for a universal installer for Linux. If you haven’t, let me explain.

For years, one of the biggest drawbacks to running Linux has been getting software. Several of the major distros have their own methods for install new software. For example, Debian and it’s derivatives, like Ubuntu and Mint, use .deb files. Fedora and openSUSE use .rpm. These are similar to .exe or msi for Windows users.

The problem arises when developers have to package their applications to run on different distro groups. This takes quite a bit of time and effort. Some developers simplify things by just supporting Ubuntu because it is the most widely used. However, this leaves other distro users out in the cold.

The idea of creating a universal installer that would allow developers to create one installer that could be used by all Linux users has been in the works for a while. Currently, there are two contenders for the crown: Flatpak and Snaps. In the last year or so, the battle has intensified. Flatpak has been around longer (it originally had the snappy name of xdg-app), but Snaps have gotten more publicity.

We’re still too early in this contest to tell who will come out the winner, but distros are picking which standard thew will support.

Flatpak for Solus Linux

Solus Linux will use Flatpak
Image credit: Solus Linux

In an article posted to the Solus Project site a couple days ago, Ikey announced that Solus would soon be using Flatpak to install third party applications. Just to be clear, Solus will still use their native .eopkg installer to handle most application installs. This change only affects programs that do not allow distros to redistribute the package, such as Flash, Google Chrome, Spotify, Teamviewer, Sublime Text, and more. (Though the main reason that Ikey picked Flatpak was to make installation of Chrome easier. Previously, Ikey had to take the Chrome package and perform hackery magic to make it work anytime an update was released.)

One of the reasons that Ikey picked Flatpak is ease of integration. According to Ikey, using Snaps would require changing the current Solus build system and including software that is not already included in Solus. On the other hand, Flatpak only requires ostree and flatpak, along with several minor changes that have been submitted upstream to the Flatpak maintainers. It will also be easier to integrate into Solus’ package manager.

Speaking of upstream, Ikey has had several interactions with the Flatpak developers when he was looking for answers on the two standards. While he doesn’t expect developers to spend their time taking to users “it certainly does wonders for confidence”.

The decision to integrate was not solely Ikey’s. He has consulted Solus users several times on social media. The latest took place on January 18th, when he posted a survey on Google Plus. Out of 400 votes, 68% supported Flatpak.

Final Thoughts

In the blog post, Ikey made a very interesting point. He said, “Clearly, in terms of “brand power”, Snap has the upper hand currently. It’s well known, well publicised, and receives constant coverage in the news.” I’ve noticed this too. Everyone talks about Snaps, but you hear very little about Flatpak. This is undoubtedly because of Ubuntu’s big drawing power in the news. In this way, it seems like tech journalism is focusing on what is popular or has the biggest name behind it instead of technical merit.

Based on this, I’m glad that Ikey picked Flatpak. He’s picking the format that will benefit him the most. It means that he won’t have to spend a lot of time trying to shoehorn Snaps into Solus. Instead, he can focus on continuing to deliver great features to Solus users.

Which universal installer do you prefer? Tell us in the comments below.

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  • I would opt for Flatpak because if it is my turn to give my option, I think using Flatpak would be easier than using snaps.

  • Another apparently universal format for applications seems to be appimage. I came across it when I decided to go back to DigiKam which I had found to be a great photo manager and editor but with heavy KDE dependencies if you were Gnome based. The new format was a piece of cake to install and seems valid for all distros.
    With all these formats though I worry that the scope for the insertion of malware is greater. Do I worry unnecessarily do you think?

    • ” I worry that the scope for the insertion of malware is greater”
      One feature/purpose of these univesral installer is to provide a sandbox which actualy reduces the scopes of malware insertion.

    • Personally I’d say if you don’t trust an application’s author, then you shouldn’t be running the application in the first place. As long as you get your applications from the original application authors.

  • has the biggest name behind it instead of technical merit

    What facts are you basing this on? What in terms of technology makes Flatpack better than Snaps?

    Snaps is taking off because Canonical is engaging in the community and invited all the major distros and major DE’s (plus some of the top open source projects such as VLC) together to discuss there wants and needs in Snappy Sprint.

    I don’t see Flatpack doing this or putting in anywhere near as much effort as the Snap project is putting into the community.

  • I still feel there is something fundamentally wrong with Flatpak or snaps. I cant put my finger on it just yet and they dont feel like a universal installer. But believe its a step in the right direction. Snaps seem to have momentum but i think flatpak is better as there is a smaller foot print by simply having 2 packages. Snaps sound bit more “bloated”. I’m not technical so just a bit of a guess. Flatpak can do KDE and QT and GTK apps. I am not in the ubuntu camp so i know very little about snaps. To me this is striking up to be another Wayland/Mir Upstart/SystemD. Will be intersting to see how this plays out long term

    • Hi John,
      While it has ended up in so many universal installer, it has one benefit though. Since they can be installed on any Linux distro (who provide support for Flatpak or Snap), a developer can manage by providing just one of the Snap or Flatpak installer.