blendOS 4: Yet Another Try on Immutability

blendOS 4, an immutable Arch-based Linux distro betting on a declarative approach, has just been released. However, it left us with mixed feelings.

Let me be clear: if you’re looking for another glowing review praising another novelty in the Linux ecosystem, you can stop reading here. You can find plenty of those elsewhere.

Today, however, I’ve put on my critical hat as we look at the newly released blendOS 4, which comes almost a year after its predecessor. Let’s start with the basics – what is blendOS?

BlendOS is a Linux distribution based on Arch designed to support applications and binaries from multiple Linux distros (Arch, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, and Ubuntu) and Android in a seamless environment.

To achieve this, blendOS employs Podman containers under the hood to ensure that these different systems coexist without conflicts. The operating system itself is immutable and uses atomic updates. Moreover, the distro is fully declarative, allowing users to customize their system.

Yes, I know. Too many terms – “immutable,” “atomic,” “declarative.” If you use Linux casually and think this topic isn’t for you, then it makes sense to stop reading—I would understand.

Without some years of experience in the DevOps field and not at least being conceptually aware of these terms, diving into blendOS probably isn’t a good idea. But really, that’s just a minor issue here.

With all that said, let’s see what the new release offers.

blendOS 4: A Power User’s Dream or Nightmare?

blendOS 4 retains the essence of Arch while enhancing its structure to support immutability and atomic operations.

But the Arch used for the base is just the developers’ choice. Due to the immutable nature of blendOS, you get almost nothing you usually associate with the Arch ecosystem with the big exception of AUR, which is the most likely reason developers stop at Arch for a base. Pacman, forget it! As we said, we’re dealing with immutability and the declarative approach here.

blendOS 4

At the heart of blendOS’s configurability is the “system.yaml” file. This single configuration file lets users define their entire system setup, including software packages, desktop environments, and services. In other words, it uses a declarative approach for the overall distribution setup.

Can you think of a similar concept? Of course, NixOS with their Nix package manager. But that’s where the similarity ends. While Nix is a fully mature project that has been proven to work seamlessly, blendOS’s declarative approach often has issues.

You’d typically look for guides or manuals to help in such a situation. Well, good luck. Finding helpful documentation is tough—it’s very limited and usually expects that you already understand a lot about how things work. But there is an explanation for this.

Creating and maintaining a Linux distribution requires the collective work of many developers accompanied by a solid infrastructure. This distinguishes the truly solid names in the Linux ecosystem, counted on the fingers of hands, from the hundreds of other home-grown projects driven by the enthusiasm of a single individual.

In the case of blendOS, the main hero is Rudra Saraswat, who created and maintained blendOS and the Ubuntu Unity flavor. Wow, one guy is moving and maintaining two distributions at the same time! However, this comes at a price.

Wherever you look, blendOS feels like a homemade project, satisfying its creator’s experimental hobby. I mean, too many errors arise in the use of its tools, many of which look, shall we say, unfinished.

Regarding tools, blendOS 4 introduces a GUI-based System application and a user CLI utility that allows for the creation of containers for Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, and CentOS Stream. That’s great. Furthermore, it also includes a Web Store that looks… like this.

BlendOS 4 App Store
BlendOS 4 App Store

With all due respect, this is not serious! It is suitable for presentation as homework for entry-level UI design in school but not for a tool in a distribution that is expected to be used. I want to install something through it—it would be great if it at least worked.

Yes, I know. Although we can’t directly use this tool, we can declaratively list all the packages we’d like to install in the “system.yaml” file. But as I mentioned, you must have the right technical skills to do this. Don’t expect the distro’s limited technical documentation to be very helpful.

Lastly, we want to mention that blendOS 4 introduces a new ‘tracks’ feature, offering pre-configured desktop environments such as GNOME, Plasma, Xfce, MATE, and Budgie. These tracks simplify the setup process, catering to users who prefer a ready-to-go system. Again, to take advantage of these, the place to set them is “system.yaml.”

Conclusion

blendOS 4 is a distribution that, behind all the technical tricks, simply uses Podman to run containers in which to install applications for use by the host operating system. While you can do this with any other distro, blendOS also offers immutability and a declarative approach to software management.

Which is great if everything worked as expected, you had the necessary documentation, and things were far more polished. Unfortunately, it is not like that at all.

The distribution feels more like a PoC (Proof-of-Concept) project, the fruit of an experimental spirit, than an OS you can rely on for your desktop computing needs. It is not something the regular Linux user would want to encounter.

However, if you’re a distro hopper, developer, or DevOps professional who likes trying out something different, consider testing it. Would we recommend it for use? Unfortunately, no. Of course, the final choice is yours.

For more information on the new release, visit the official announcement.

Bobby Borisov

Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

Think You're an Ubuntu Expert? Let's Find Out!

Put your knowledge to the test in our lightning-fast Ubuntu quiz!
Ten questions to challenge yourself to see if you're a Linux legend or just a penguin in the making.

1 / 10

Ubuntu is an ancient African word that means:

2 / 10

Who is the Ubuntu's founder?

3 / 10

What year was the first official Ubuntu release?

4 / 10

What does the Ubuntu logo symbolize?

5 / 10

What package format does Ubuntu use for installing software?

6 / 10

When are Ubuntu's LTS versions released?

7 / 10

What is Unity?

8 / 10

What are Ubuntu versions named after?

9 / 10

What's Ubuntu Core?

10 / 10

Which Ubuntu version is Snap introduced?

The average score is 68%