Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Is it possible to survive on a Linux desktop with just Flatpak?

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Linux distros offer multiple ways of downloading software to their users. But what does it feel like to use a Flatpak-only Linux desktop?

Some Linux distributions have already embraced Flatpak in a big way, going all-in on the format. What is it like to use a Flatpak-only desktop?

Flatpak is one of the newer package formats to grace the Linux desktop. This is a single format that allows you to install software across any Linux distribution, with that software in theory only accessing parts of the computer that you permit.

What Is Flatpak?
Flatpak is a way of distributing or downloading apps for Linux. There is a lot to be said about them, so for a deep dive, check out our explainer on Flatpak apps.

Flatpak is a universal format intended to work on virtually all Linux distributions.
It isolates apps from one another, only giving access to the parts you grant permission to, similar to Android and iOS.
Flatpak apps do not need you to enter your password when installed or removed.
Flatpak apps continue to work on newer versions of Linux.
Put simply, Flatpak aims to make app development and distribution for Linux as simple and secure as it is on mobile devices.

For a brief overview, there are several issues that Flatpak apps are intended to address:

Which Linux Distros Are Flatpak-Only?
Not all distros that have embraced Flatpak as the primary package format have done so in the same way. But these are the three prominent Linux distros that have embraced Flatpak as the default and primary way of distributing apps.

1. Fedora Silverblue
Fedora Silverblue app permissions system updates
Fedora Silverblue is a version of Fedora Workstation that, instead of building the system with RPMs, treats the root filesystem as a read-only image managed by software known as OSTree. You don’t download updates for the system, you download a whole new image to replace your existing one.

The benefit of this is that it’s difficult to break your system to a point where it is unable to boot. And if a new version does introduce problems, it’s also easy to boot up a previous image, undoing the unwanted changes. As for software, that’s where Fedora Silverblue turns to Flatpak. All of the apps you install from GNOME Software come in the Flatpak format. Fedora maintains its own set of Flatpak apps, and you can turn to Flathub for more.

To install software in any other format, you can either do so in a container within the terminal using a program known as Toolbox, or you can add specific RPMs to your system image. Since adding RPMs to the image requires a full restart each time, this is not the ideal way to install apps and is best only for those programs that aren’t yet available in the Flatpak format. 2. Endless OS
Endless OS flatpak apps
Endless OS is a distribution targeting children, schools, and areas of the world without steady internet access. Like Silverblue, Endless uses a combination of OSTree and Flatpak. Unlike Silverblue, Endless OS’s system image is based on DEBs.

Endless takes a stricter approach to apps. You only install software via the App Center, which only distributes apps in the Flatpak format. Endless OS does not use a traditional desktop interface (though it is based on GNOME), nor are many of its apps traditional Linux apps. This is a fundamentally different kind of experience.

3. Elementary OS
elementary OS flatpak app permissions appcenter
Elementary OS, too, is a very different take on Linux. Starting with elementary OS 6, AppCenter by default only shows apps specifically made for elementary OS and also only shows Flatpak apps. So even though elementary OS remains a traditional package-based system, with system updates distributed as DEBs, you cannot see any apps installed as DEBs inside AppCenter.

Since elementary OS remains an Ubuntu-based distro, you can still use the terminal to install any app available in Ubuntu’s repositories, but you will be dependent on the terminal to install updates or remove these programs. On the flip side, if you install a single app from Flathub, you will gain the ability to see all apps available from that source inside AppCenter, since these are Flatpak apps.

News Summary:

  • Is it possible to survive on a Linux desktop with just Flatpak?
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