Linux desktop leaders unite behind the Flathub app store. Here’s why
I’ve been using one Linux desktop or another for decades. But I’m a Unix and Linux expert. For most people who just want a desktop and their applications to work – thank you very much – the hundreds of different Linux desktops and dozens of ways to achieve similar goals are more annoying than tempting.
One such problem is how to find, install, and be sure that any given program will work on your desktop. The leaders of the GNOME Foundation and the KDE Foundation are now building an app store on top of Flatpak, a universal Linux software installation and package management program.
Also: 8 things you can do on Linux that you can’t do on MacOS or Windows
The idea of replacing the traditional but not very friendly ways of Linux desktop applications such as DEB and RPM package management systems has been around for a while. In addition to being easier to use, Flatpak and its rivals such as Appimage and Snaps can run on any Linux distribution. All programs do this by containerizing applications with all their required libraries and associated files.
This is not the first time that such an idea has been tried. For example, Linspire (Lindows) pioneered the “Click’n’Run” app store in the mid-2000s.
Recently, Elementary OS experimented with a pay-what-you-can app store. But since it’s limited to a handful or a single Linux distribution, it’s never been that appealing to users or developers.
According to former Google president Eric Schmidt of Plaintext Group, the proposal now is to “Support diversity and sustainability in the Linux desktop community by adding payments, donations, and subscriptions to the Flathub app store.”
The idea is backed by a number of Linux desktop leaders, such as GNOME president Robert McQueen; former GNOME managing director and Debian project leader Neil McGovern; and Aleix Pol, President of KDE.
Unlike previous store attempts, Flatpak works on essentially all Linux distributions. This makes it much more interesting.
Also: The best Linux distributions for beginners
Why is Flakpak your main rival instead of Snaps? They explained: “Flathub is a vendor-neutral service for Linux application developers to build and publish their applications directly to their end users. A healthy application ecosystem is essential to the success of open source desktop software so that end users can trust and manage their data and development platforms.” on the device in front of them.”
Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu and Snaps, doesn’t like Flatpak, which originally came from Canonical’s rival Red Hat, in the least. In fact, Canonical recently decided that neither Ubuntu nor its variants such as Kubuntu, Lubuntu, and Ubuntu Studio support Flatpak. You can still add Flatpak to these distributions. There simply won’t be Flatpak built into the Ubuntu family.
On the other hand, supporters of the Flatpak store state: “Our biggest ‘competitor’ in the Linux app store space is the Canonical Snap Store, which (apart from arguments about the relative technical merits of Flatpaks and Snaps) is a corporate entity, not a community-controlled nonprofit, whose authors it requires a legal allocation for both Snap and the Store, and makes it very difficult or unattractive to run your own stores in practice.”
Alas, where would desktop Linux be without caring about what software is real and proper software? Probably much more successful than it is now.
Also: The best Linux distributions for programming
Both approaches make it much easier for software distributors to not only package their programs for any customer, but also sell them to people or businesses.
Flatpak takes the lead. Flathub now offers over 2,000 apps from over 1,500 GitHub contributors. It currently averages 700,000 app downloads per day, and 898 million HTTP requests per day, totaling 88.3 terabytes, are served by the Content Delivery Network (CDN) every day.
Behind the scenes, Flathub is developing its infrastructure. Development efforts focused on building functionality into the Flathub web app to move from the build service to the app store. These efforts include user and developer accounts, processing payments through the Stripe payment platform, and managing upload tokens for developers for apps they control. In parallel, Flathub is working on app verification and flat-manager matching functionality to ensure app metadata accurately reflects verification and pricing, and provides authentication to paying users for app downloads.
The addition of financial support is a big deal for Flathub and Linux developers and users alike. As McQueen recently said, “The biggest remaining barrier to the scale and impact of the Linux desktop is economic.”
This isn’t just a Flathub issue. This is a Linux desktop issue.
Also: How to replace Windows with Linux Mint on your PC
McQueen wrote in his blog post: “As a community, we still have a challenging relationship with money. Some creators are lucky enough to work full-time within the FLOSS space, while a few ‘superstar’ developers are able to secure some level of financial support by investing time in into building a following via streaming, Patreon, Kickstarter, or the like. However, most of us have to accept that the main payoff for our work is a stream of bug reports on GitHub, interspersed with occasional reconciliation beers. FOSDEM.”
It is not enough. It was never enough. McQueen continued, “If there’s no financial return to being involved in free and open source desktop app development, we’re going to lose a lot of people in the process—despite the amazing accomplishments of those who got us to where we are today. As a result, we have far fewer developers and we’ll have an app. If we can’t provide access to a growing base of users or offer them an opportunity with monetary value, the reward for adoption and eventual payment is very small.”
Hopefully the paid Flathub app store will be a success and help make the Linux desktop much more popular than it already is.