For a long time, Linux got a bad reputation not only for being difficult to use, but for not having the software needed to be productive. I remember, in the early days of using Linux (I started in ’97), those problems were very true. Not only was Linux complicated to get up and running, but software installation usually required a nightmare of dependency installations and manual build software.
On top of that, much of the software it relied on was nowhere. This, of course, was long before the web browser became the primary tool for both productivity and entertainment.
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Those days are long gone. Now, Linux is incredibly easy to use and offers hundreds of thousands of applications that can be installed using package managers that make the process very easy to use.
However (there is always a however), you will find that not all package managers are created equal. For example, Ubuntu has apt, which makes installing software from the command line as easy as
RHEL-based distributions have dnf, which is just as simple:
With these package managers, software is installed from repositories, and sometimes you’ll find that installing one piece of software requires you to install another first. Now, package managers like apt are very good at picking up and installing dependencies for you. And in case it fails, you can always go back and issue the command:
The above command will fix the missing dependencies. It’s quite useful and something I have to rely on regularly.
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That’s where Flatpak and Snap come into play. These are considered universal package managers that are distribution-independent (meaning you can use them on almost any Linux distribution) and make installing software as easy (if not easier) than the built-in package manager.
What makes the Snap and Flatpak packages so special?
One of the reasons Snap and Flatpak were developed was to eliminate dependency issues encountered with traditional package managers. You see, the Snap and Flatpak packages contain all the software needed to install the package in question, including dependencies.
So, when you are going to install a certain piece of software through Snap or Flatpak, you don’t have to worry about installing dependencies because the developer of the Snap or Flatpak package has taken care of that for you.
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Ease of use isn’t the only draw for both Snap and Flatpak. There is another important point that can be a bit of a difficult problem with open source purists.
With Snap and Flatpak, you get access to a bunch of proprietary software. For example, you can’t just install Zoom or Spotify using apt or dnf (not without first locating and adding repositories, and even that could cause you problems). With Snap and Flatpak, a completely different world of software opens up for the Linux user.
For example, I can
open a terminal window and install Zoom with:
can also visit the Snapcraft store or Flathub and find all sorts of necessary software available that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
So, both Snap and Flatpak not only make software installation much easier on Linux, they also open the floodgates to software that would otherwise be challenging or impossible to install on Linux. To make this even more appealing, some distributions include Snap and/or Flatpak support in the GUI app store. For example, I can search for Zoom in Pop!_OS Pop Shop and find an entry in the list (Figure 1).
Take off my pink glasses
As you navigate the waters of Linux, you’ll find that not everything is rosy regarding Snap and Flatpak. Within the Linux community, there has been a fairly consistent debate about which option is best and why these tools aren’t necessarily good for Linux as a whole.
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However, I’m all for anything that makes Linux easier for the average user, and both Snap and Flatpak do just that. So from my perspective, both Snap and Flatpak have done a world of good for the open source operating system and end users in general.
Because of that, I strongly recommend users new to Linux not to bother listening to disputes on both sides of the fence. Although both fields have valid reasons why their package format is the best, both offer significant benefits for Linux as a whole and for those who use it.