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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”.

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

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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