Linux Mint blocking snapd

The Feren OS Dev wrote a good article on the topic:

Personally i’m still parsing out how I feel about the topic so i’m lucky for people willing to deep dive, there’s a heap of good points on both ends though i’m erring on the side of Mint. This topic’s also coming in a TWinL episode.

I think the key is the context. While Mint’s about page doesn’t quite cover it…

https://linuxmint.com/about.php

in my opinion Linux Mint is geared toward the less OS technical end of the Linux crowd while still providing the full stack to it’s technical users. In particular it’s what’s made Mint one of the best recommendations for new users. Ubuntu’s the same though obviously they have a massive technical crowd resulting from the amount of support they pour in.

Mint’s context is how Ubuntu’s changes will relate to their users. Users who’ll morso be prone to installing first and asking questions later. Quick aside: This being the exact same behavior we all did when we were new and shouldn’t be confused with “not caring”. The truth is 100% of us care about, yet know almost nothing about, an immeasurable amount of things we depend on. Trust ≠ not caring.

So even though it’s relatively upfront to a technical user via dependencies, blog posts, ect that Ubuntu is switching the behavior of the apt namespace to instead install snapd as a wrapper even though it’s already in the Snap store, it won’t be intuitive to a lot of Linux Mint users who’d otherwise understand if they were explicitly installing Chromium as a Snap.

Is the term “back door” a bit much? Yes, but to a new user being switched to a new software eco system without them explicitly installing or using that eco system to begin the installation, it’s not intuitive. It’s loosely similar to how Windows used their update service to start pushing Win10 and in some instances moved people over unless they were very careful. That was not a back door, but it was abuse of how users expected the front door to work.

This might be a naive question but if Chromium is available in the Snap store, why is Ubuntu replacing the apt namespace? If the problem of packaging and distributing Chromium in an accessible way is already solved, isn’t this extra step purely about corralling users who already have their chosen developers giving them a heads up via the GUI?

I don’t see how blocking snapd in a way that’s easy to undo is a problem until Ubuntu is no longer corralling users into installing it, it seems like a justifiable stand for Mint to take on behalf of their demographic (lets not forget the proprietary nature of Snaps) though I think a lot is lost in translation when they’re saying why.

Just some thoughts, eagerly absorbing the debate,

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I thought this discussion would show up soon. Mint is not blocking snapd outright. They are blocking applications from installing snapd. You can still install it on your system if you want it.

I’m not sure how the chromium package is handling this, does it install snapd as a dependency or is it operating like a meta-package that then fetches a bunch of stuff you don’t notice?

Personally I don’t mind what Mint is doing. It’s kind of like the whole telemetry debate. I’d rather my system presume non-consent until I explicitly give it. If Mint wants to forbid snapd from being automatically installed that’s peachy, since I already expect to have to manually install it when I want it anyways, like most things.

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I heard about this issue on a couple of podcasts now and I am kind of against them doing this.

Their upstream (Ubuntu) has chosen to package chromium in a snap, wrapped in a .deb, because of the vast amount of time it takes to build chromium for all their supported versions (14.04 and up). This way they can just build one, which is a snap.

If Linux Mint does not want to do it this way, they have 2 options, since they are a distribution and thus should distribute packages. Distributing packages also means maintaining packages.

  1. Drop the chromium package from the repo. This would make the users of Chromium search the snap store themselves and install it that way. Numbers show that Linux Mint is the second largest OS, userwise, that uses snaps, just after Ubuntu itself. So people in Linux Mint clearly has no issue using snaps.

  2. The Linux Mint team could maintain a regular .deb installer of Chromium themselves. If you, as a distribution, does not like how a package is provided by your upstream or a package is simply not provided by your upstream that you want, you create / alter that package yourself and distribute that instead of the one from upstream.

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I, for one, prefer to have a security-sensitive, internet-facing application, such as a web browser, sandboxed inside a container such as a snap.

Let’s all recall what Google Chrome was caught doing not too long ago (scanning the computer for installed apps, to report back to the “mothership”).

Popey also points out (in this podcast) that by packaging Chromium as a snap, that saves them 50% of the labor, of packaging it as a .deb (which includes a complex collection of depended-upon packages), for each all the older LTS releases, right back to Ubuntu 14.04.

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I’ve removed snapd from my systems. I would not be happy if it was installed it as part of Chromium. In my opinion, the arguments against snap outweigh the arguments for it. I won’t try to repeat those arguments here since smarter people have laid out the pro’s and con’s.Admittedly, a large part of my objections to snap are based on the increased hardware requirements (snap packages consume more disk, and take longer to launch, and the overhead of the snap daemon). I don’t want to upgrade my hardware - and I don’t want the performance penalty that I’ll suffer without the hardware upgrades. Frankly, I don’t use Chromium or Chrome anyway.

I agree with 1. This just seems like some sort of grudge That linux mint has an issue with Conical Also I pose they may also be using this as way to be in the news . Which I think is more likely . Also consider that There’s also Ubuntu Cinnamon Which uses the linux Mint desktop so if anything We could just straight up Direct users there. https://ubuntucinnamon.org/ Also I really think this is a some sort of anger towards Ubuntu Cinnamon tbf as well.

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Basically I prefer snaps and if available I want to install them. But after installing LibreOffice in a snap, I detected that I lost access to the Dutch language libraries and installing it again did not work for the snap. So I had to delete the snap again. I’m interested how the snap people want to work with language dependencies. If they can’t solve this major issue, snaps are for the USA, UK and some other larger countries only!

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I 100% agree with this and I think if Linux is going to be a next generation operating system the only way forward is to embrace sandboxing. sudo apt install for everything is a bit of a joke but so is expecting everyone to use Qubes OS.

What I worry about is this essential move being hijacked by one company that seems ok with corralling users onto a centralized proprietary system. I get that they need to save time and where responsibility lies between users, Ubuntu and all it’s forks is really complicated but I think it’s ok to morn the loss of potential toward FOSS ideals at least.

Taking a huge guess… I think the answer is a form of seemless sandboxing that’s easy to port to every distro and acts as a wrapper for apt-get passing through the same syntax (ex: sudo apt-c install xcalc). By default it’d put everything in lightweight LXC containers though there’d be parameters to abstract more. There’d also be a markup file for devs to tell the OS what access it needs, then it falls back to the community suggestion, then it falls back to user settings. A CLI/GUI would accompany it and help users turn things on and off and push updates.

As it’d wrap apt-get it’d be immediately compatible with almost everything in the existing repos and not require it’s own.

Exactly.

The wording is bad though, calling it a backdoor. Sounds immature indeed.
I understand what Mint tries to do but I also understand Ubuntu, specifically with Chromium, even Debian has problems, it is an enormous effort to maintain the Chromium package.

I am not a fan at all of the preinstalled or now recommended snap packages in Ubuntu. I only want them if I really need them. But I accept Canonical’s decision in the context of broader software availability for the whole Linux ecosystem as I accept Mint’s decision in its own context.

And if I remember correctly, you can still install snapd in Mint, so I do not really get the whole repetitive conclusions from the Medium blog article that you lose choice.

Ubuntu 20.04 by default has snapd support but not flatpak in Ubuntu’s Gnome Software (Ubuntu Software that is a snap package itself). You have to change to the deb version of it or install flatpak explicitly. Seems about similar in concept. In Mint now you will have to install snap for yourself if desired.

I think people will make more of this then it actually is like always, on either sides.

That is also a good point and I wonder why they do not pick it up themselves.

Well said. I agree with Clem’s approach and, in general, I totally understand and approve of the Mint philosophy on issues like this. It feels like we NEED both outlooks, like poles, in the linux-phere because of the innovation AND the safeguards they bring to the users.

Thanks for posting this.

I honestly think the Mint team overreacted to this. There are applications that would be available in the Snap store, and they shouldn’t have to add roadblocks for users and prevent them from running Snaps.

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Do you think the roadblock is justified given Snaps will be installed without the knowing consent of newer users using apt install coupled with the proprietary nature of Snaps going against Mint’s FOSS ethos?

I wasn’t referring to the empty Chromium package.

What I was referring to is the fact that they won’t let you install Snapd at all, unless you either specify the version, or totally nuke the custom preference.

To extend that question out… given Ubuntu’s move here, is it credible to anticipate similar behavior with other packages making a preemptive block best practice. The alternative is waiting for an issue to be reported after x amount of installs and blocking it piecemeal.

As for installing snapd, as far as I know it’s a simple line removal from a config file similar to how debian requires a “non-free” parameter added to the sources.list for a lot of apps they don’t ethically support but still make accessible. This is not an unusual measure though even if we assume snapd was seriously locked out… it’s why I brought up Mint’s FOSS ethos which their users lean on. They’re on Mint because it’ll act in their best interest, protective measures are part of why they picked Mint and if not there’s plenty of other options.

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Sometimes I think on this forum we over complicate things. Linux Mint for a lot of users is the stepping stone for people getting into Linux. Sometimes people have no idea what Linux Mint actually is but use it because this is what was given to them to try. How many times do we hear that if they were to suggest a distro to a person on Windows to use it would be Linux Mint? If Linux Mint is that popular with Linux noobies with very little computer knowledge, how many of these people even know what snapd is? I have a feeling that a lot of Linux Mint users won’t even read anything about this. These are the users that would probably only use their computers to open a browser for their social website and checking their email through a browser. They probably would never do online banking and pay their bills with checks,

So for these users that fear the terminal, what is in their best interest, installing from a software store or going into the dreaded terminal? I think most will live in Firefox before they use terminal and if they want Chromium then they get it because they miss Chrome and Chromium would be installed for them or would be told to go to the software store to get it as a replacement to Chrome. If the Linux Mint team can make it where a person can install Chromium through their software store and keep up with all the security updates then more power to them.

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Now I just read that config file you actually have to remove to be able to get snapd. Because Mint somehow has no trust in Canonical but paradoxically they use all of the Ubuntu repos. It sounds strange. But then it is true, unlike most of the software the snap store is proprietary but so are a lot of apps you can install from Flathub.

Just an observation. Though I would still be OK with it as I would not want to have something installed without my consent.

And as a side note. I do not think that all of the Linux Mint users are only non-technical people or pure newcomers. I think that is a prejudice. Many of them are geeks and power users that want a reliable, stable, customizable and powerful system to get real work done.

But they take our advice because we’ll act in their best interest by passing them to a distro that we believe will act in their best interest. If we believe that an os that’ll likely coral them into a proprietary solution is something ok to normalize with a new user then we should be recommending Ubuntu or a Snaps friendly distro. If not Linux Mint is a good recommendation.

On how Linux Mint will ultimately resolve the chromium issue that’s yet to unfold and I agree i’m interested in what they come up with.

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The first distro that got me off Windows was Linux Mint and I intuited right away that Mint devs would act as an ideological buffer between me and Ubuntu, at the time I heard the word about Ubuntu’s Amazon affiliation and wasn’t sure about their alignment.

I think the goal of Mint was to give people the power of Ubuntu but with 3rd party mediation over the experience. As Ubuntu is a relatively stand up company that doesn’t require absolute filtration of every app but it does help to have someone who’ll give users a heads up or weight the scales when appropriate. Trust isn’t an all or nothing thing depending on the situation.

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Another observation is that other Ubuntu based and prominent distributions like ElementaryOS and Pop OS (I never know how to write that one) also prefer flatpak. I am not sure how they implement it but Linux Mint is not alone.
Though Manjaro is giving the user the option to enable both at install time, I think. That is even cooler.
Debian does not give you any hint at all but you can install snap and flatpak and Chromium, from regular repos, afterwards.

I would say it is the choice of the distribution and then of the user. I still see no reason for drama.

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Great point! Linux Mint was my introduction and win-over to Linux. It made Linux accessible to me, and put everything down on a level I could grasp. I don’t know that I would be running Linux today full time if I had been thrown into Ubuntu (Absolutely NOTHING against Ubuntu proper, especially now!) as it was so radically different from anything I was used to seeing or working with. Mint maintains a beautiful, conservative style and approach to Linux that needs to be maintained and developed. I hope it always stays Mint, just like I hope Ubuntu always stays Ubuntu.

Snaps can still be enabled and installed for those curious or who can see the value in them. Flatpacks work just as well pragmatically, and is a great option for Mint. It has a huge user-base from a wide range of user types. Pretty sure it will continue to thrive strong and well.