Linux Mint 20 will block Ubuntu Snap by default

The team behind the popular Linux distribution Linux Mint plans to release Linux Mint 20 next month. The release features several changes and improvements. One of the changes was announced in the June 2020 news roundup on the official Linux Mint blog.

According to information posted there, the team behind Linux Mint is worried about the direction that Ubuntu Snap is taking, and decided to block snap by default in Linux Mint 20.

Snap offers one way of installing applications on Linux systems. Its main advantage over traditional installation systems is that it bundles the application and its dependencies. In other words, less worries about missing dependencies when installing applications.

The idea behind Snap, and alternative solutions such as Flatpak or AppImage, makes a whole lot of sense. Back in 2019, the team feared that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu and thus Snap, could gain too much control over the distribution process.

What we didn’t want it to be was for Canonical to control the distribution of software between distributions and 3rd party editors, to prevent direct distribution from editors, to make it so software worked better in Ubuntu than anywhere else and to make its store a requirement.

Ubuntu planned to replace the Chromium repository package with an empty package that installs the Chromium snap, and that would make snap a requirement for users to continue using Chromium.

Ubuntu is planning to replace the Chromium repository package with an empty package which installs the Chromium snap. In other words, as you install APT updates, Snap becomes a requirement for you to continue to use Chromium and installs itself behind your back. This breaks one of the major worries many people had when Snap was announced and a promise from its developers that it would never replace APT.

Ubuntu 20.04 shipped with an empty Chromium package and is acting “without your consent, as a backdoor by connecting your computer to the Ubuntu Store” according to the blog post on the Linux Mint site.

That’s a problem because “applications in this store cannot be patched, or pinned” and users cannot “audit them, hold them, modify them, or even point snap to a different store”.  The team believes that this is in effect similar to using proprietary software but with the added problem that it “runs as root” and “installs itself without asking”.

As a consequence, Linux Mint 20 will include the following modifications that deal with the situation:

  • Chromium won’t be offered as an empty package that installs snapd without user notification. Linux Mint will inform users why it is empty and how Chromium can be obtained.
  • In Linux Mint 20, “APT will forbid snapd from getting installed”.

The team notes that Linux Mint users will be able to install snapd manually if they want to, and that the release notes will offer instructions on how to do that.

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