What’s The Deal With Snap Packages?

Who would have thought that software packaging software would cause such a hubbub? But such is the case with snap. Developed by Canonical as a faster and easier way to get the latest versions of software installed on Ubuntu systems, the software has ended up starting a fiery debate in the larger Linux community. For the more casual user, snap is just a way to get the software they want as quickly as possible. But for users concerned with the ideology of free and open source software, it’s seen a dangerous step towards the types of proprietary “walled gardens” that may have drove them to Linux in the first place.

Perhaps the most vocal opponent of snap, and certainly the one that’s got the most media attention, is Linux Mint. In a June 1st post on the distribution’s official blog, Mint founder Clement Lefebvre made it very clear that the Ubuntu spin-off does not approve of the new package format and wouldn’t include it on base installs. Further, he announced that Mint 20 would actively block users from installing the snap framework through the package manager. It can still be installed manually, but this move is seen as a way to prevent it from being added to the system without the user’s explicit consent.

The short version of Clement’s complaint is that the snap packager installs from a proprietary Canonical-specific source. If you want to distribute snaps, you have to set up an account with Canonical and host it there. While the underlying software is still open source, the snap packager breaks with long tradition of having the distribution of the software also being open and free. This undoubtedly makes the install simple for naive users, and easier to maintain for Canonical maintainers, but it also takes away freedom of choice and diversity of package sources.

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Windows And Ubuntu: “Cygwin Can Suck It”

For the last ten years or so, computing has been divided into two camps: Windows, and everything else with a *nix suffix. Want a computing paradigm where everything is a file? That’s Linux. Want easy shell scripting that makes the command line easy? Linux. Want a baroque registry with random percent signs and dollar symbols? That would be Windows. Want to run the most professional productivity apps for design and engineering? Sadly, that’s Windows as well.

*nix runs nearly the entire Internet, the top 500 supercomputers in the world, and is the build environment for every non-Windows developer. Yet Windows is the most popular operating system. The divide between Windows and *nix isn’t so much a rivalry, as much as people who still spell Microsoft with a dollar sign would tell you. It’s just the way personal computing evolved by way of¬†legacy apps and IT directors.

Now, this great divide in the world of computing is slowly closing. At¬†Microsoft’s Build 2016 developer’s conference, Microsoft and Canonical, Ubuntu’s parent company, announced a partnership that will allow Ubuntu to run using native Windows libraries.

In short, this announcement means bash and the Linux command line is coming to Windows 10. The command line is great, but userland is where it’s at, and here this partnership really shines. Unlike Cygwin, the current way to get *nix stuff running in a Windows environment, Windows’ bash will allow unmodified Linux programs to run unmodified on Windows 10.

It is not an understatement to say this is the most important development in operating systems in the last 10 years. For the last decade, every developer who is not purely a Windows developer has picked up a MacBook for the sole reason of having BSD under the hood. If you’re looking for a reason Apple is popular with devs, it’s *nix under the hood. This announcement changes all of that.