There are hundreds of Linux distributions to choose from, and while there are some similarities (they all use some version of the Linux kernel and most support a variety of popular desktop environments such as GNOME, KDE, and Xfce), there are also some differences — like the way you install applications.

Traditional Debian-based applications like Ubuntu have relied on apt. Fedora used yum. And so on. For the most part you can find popular programs like Firefox, LibreOffice and GIMP on each platform. But developers have to build their software for each platform. And then when you install the application you might also have to install a bunch of other programs or “dependencies” to go along with it.

In recent years we’ve seen a few efforts to make things simpler by offering developers a build-once-distribute-everywhere option while also giving users a single file that contains everything they need to run an app.

Ubuntu designed its own solution called Snappy, and for the past few years Snaps have been available for other operating systems as well.

Flatpak is another option. It’s an open source package management, deployment, and virtualization technology that’s been around since late 2014. And today the developers have released version 1.0.

That’s not to say that this is the first stable version of Flatpak. It’s been pretty usable for a while. But in the official announcement, the team behind Flatpak says it’s “feature complete,” which basically means that while development hasn’t stopped, Flatpak 1.0 has some new features for developer sand users, including:

  • Developers can mark versions of their app as “end of life,” so that users know they won’t be supported anymore.
  • There’s a new system that allows apps to restart.
  • There are some new command line options.

Flathub is also coming out of beta today. It’s basically an app store/web site/repository for software that’s packaged in the Flatpak format.

In addition to allowing developers to bundle dependencies with an app and distribute a single file that can be installed on multiple Linux distros, the Flatpak system means that applications run in a sandboxed environment, which theoretically offers greater security by keeping programs isolated from the rest of your operating system. You need to grant explicit permission for an app to access files or use hardware that’s outside the sandbox.

Applications will also receive updates as they’re pushed out by developers. You don’t need to wait for it to show up in a repository.

The down side is that Flatpak (and Snap) packages use more disk space and memory than applications compiled specifically for the operating system you’re using, and they may look out of place since they might not match your system theme.

It’s unlikely that Flatpack or Snaps are going to replace traditional GNU/Linux package management systems anytime soon. But it’s nice to see that they are shaping up to be more robust alternatives with Canonical continuing to invest in Snaps and the Flatpak team continuing to refine their system.

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9 replies on “Flatpak 1.0 released, aims to simplify installation of Linux apps”

  1. I use Cloudready OS by Neverware which is Chrome OS modified for PCS / Macs (they have funding from Google). Cloudready OS has allowed you to use flatpaks for quite a while now, I use libre office, various browsers and games. Works very well, would recoemmended people give it a try if they have an old lapotp they don’t know what to do with or are just fed up with Winodws 10!

  2. What’s wrong with using the terminal to install packages? Maybe I’m more tech savvy than the typical Linux user, but if you’re using Linux, I would think the terminal would be the fastest and easiest way. APT-GET (Ubuntu) and RPM (Fedora) have never failed me. Sometimes you have to look up a package name (unless there’s an easier way to get it from the terminal that I don’t know), but most of the time it’s very straight forward.

    IDK. I think if you’re using Linux, you need to get used to the terminal. It takes a little bit of learning, but it’s usually a heck of lot faster and easier than anything else.

    1. I use flatpack for more obscure software… the stuff I can’t get with adding a repo or ppa. Many times compiling software can be a large pain getting all the dependencies, also it might want root to install. Flatpack just works and many times the extra libraries don’t take up much space. I install it in userland so no security issues.

    2. I am an engineer and, and such, I have used Windows computers an awful lot over the last two decades. I consider myself pretty good with a Windows computer but I know very little about programming or any “behind the scenes” computer stuff. I tried out Linux for fun in the past and, after using Windows a lot, I really struggled with installing applications on Linux. If I could not find them in the Ubuntu app store I pretty much could not install them. This was frustrating and I have not booted Linux in quite some time now as a result, despite finding Linux a pleasure to use otherwise. I’m not asking Linux developers do develop with users like me in mind. But, if people want Linux to become a very popular OS (not counting Android), especially with more causal users, they need to make common everyday tasks like installing software as easy and intuitive as possible. I think needing to use the terminal to install software is a hurdle most users would not be willing to clear. Just my 2 cents.

      1. ChromeOS is probably the linux “distribution” that you are looking for. They will have many popular linux apps added to their software store soon. Google has you covered. No command line needed.

        1. I appreciate the suggestion, and I may even give ChromeOS a try some day (having popular Linux apps available is appealing), but I don’t think it will be for me. I prefer to have everything stored locally. Not only is my internet not really up to the task, only satellite in my area, but I like having instant access wherever I go. I’m also a little put off by Google’s endless appetite for your data. I’m not anti-Google, I use an Android phone, but I do try to limit how entrenched I become in Google’s services.

    3. on top of the argument “newbie users can’t / don’t want to use the command line, it stops people from switching to linux”, I’d add that as a developer, packaging an app for easy install is complicated, add to that the fact that you have to learn how to package it for every distro out there, and you end up in a situation where the dev pushes the responsibility of installing dependencies manually / compiling from source onto the user (instead of having a simple command to install from the cli), making it a lot more complicated to use even for the tech-savvy user.

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