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Canonical planning an immutable desktop version of Ubuntu

By - | Views: 28,327

This could be very interesting and exciting. Canonical has confirmed they're working towards an immutable version of Ubuntu for desktop users based on all the work they've done with Ubuntu Core.

Mentioned initially in a comment on OMGUbuntu with a target for the next LTS (long term support) release, later a full blog post was put up on the official Ubuntu website going into more detail on their thoughts and plans. Don't worry though, the normal Ubuntu releases aren't going anywhere.

For those who don't follow what an immutable OS even is: in simple terms it keeps the main operating system as read-only, which is supposed to make it more stable, secure and easier to update with all your applications isolated from it with some sort of container system. So think like SteamOS on Steam Deck, Fedora Silverblue or Ubuntu Core and even Google's Chrome OS.

From the blog post:

Behind the scenes, the Canonical team has been actively exploring the benefits of Ubuntu Core beyond the realm of IoT, most notably in the context of developers and daily users.

The properties inherent to Ubuntu Core such as secure boot, recovery states and hardware backed encryption would bring significant improvements to the security posture of a user’s PC.

It also introduces the concept of modularity to the user experience, where users may experiment with alternative desktop environment snaps while remaining on a highly stable, signed and secure LTS base.

The use of snap channels also brings into the play the concept of ‘rolling’ certain elements of the distribution. Gamers, for example, might opt-in to a kernel channel that ships the latest NVIDIA drivers as soon as they are available, in the same way the Ubuntu Desktop team did for Mesa as part of our work on the Steam snap.

However, this level of stability and security comes with trade-offs for developers and tinkerers, restricting modification of the base OS in favour of a ‘just works’ experience. For developers who see their device as a platform for open source development, the solution is container-based environments similar to the LXD based Crostini. For tinkerers, the classic Ubuntu images would remain their preferred route to enable full control of (and responsibility for) their system.

While Ubuntu Core is meant for IoT OS for embedded devices, this is something different to give desktop users a potential taste of things to come. With the rise of more applications coming to the likes of Snap and Flatpak, this does make some sense and I think Jorge Castro's blog on how Linux distributions are changing is also a good read for what's to come.

Canonical has been expanding Snaps now for a while with the likes of the stable Steam snap for Ubuntu 23.04, the upcoming CUPS Snap and naturally plenty more to come.

How do you feel about an immutable version of Ubuntu with lots of Snap packages?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly. Find me on Mastodon.
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41 comments
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Quoting: NumericAt the core of it, the people I work with want to know very little about their PC (for a variety of reasons). Majority never even change the desktop wallpaper. They push the power button, then expect everything to work and be up to date. The younger ones do some customization, but defaults are king. Their systems take care of themselves and manual interaction is only performed when forced by system prompts.
I'm not quite at this level, but I'm close. I understand some things about computers in theory, but I'm not a tinkerer in practice. And I don't see why an immutable OS helps with this. I don't think it would cause a problem either, but I mean,

Case 1: Immutable OS. System guts cannot be changed, so they don't get changed. This means they remain as push-button user friendly or user unfriendly as they were when first installed, but does not imply anything about what that initial state is like.

Case 2: Non-immutable OS. System guts can be changed, but that never happens because I don't change them. Because, like, why would I? I'm not a tinkerer. Result, exactly the same story as case 1.

So I don't see why or how an immutable OS leads to the situation you describe of simpler more push-a-button functionality. I'm sure it has use cases, and as I say I can see it being about as good for a simple end user so it's not like I'd never try one, like if it had other features that were desirable, I just don't see why "being immutable" would in itself be a feature that would make my life better.

(The one thing I'm actually a bit uncertain about is the side effect where it seems like often immutable OSes want everything I can install to be Snaps or Flatpaks or stuff. I dunno, I think there's a lot to like about traditional package management; I don't mind a few Flatpaks for particular things, but . . . I dunno.)
Great. More division of the user-base and problem solving and guides will probably be incompatible between immutable and classic distros.
Also sounds like another step towards project walled garden. This is your system? This is our System! And we will remove the pesky choice of not using our in house container distribution system. Meaning developers will be more inclined to prioritize snap support over other packaging and so over time will the user-base. Let's face it: there is no home desktop user advantage compared to a well put together distro here in fact there is the potential for quite a lot of frustration like in chrome os or android when people with small problems or needs that should be easily solvable run into artificial brick walls placed there fore the cryptic promise of 'more security and stability'.There seems to be corporate interest though. One wonders why...
'But...think of the children!'- Yeah, I am. I'd rather see them explore and get their hands dirty and their clothes torn, once in a while, out in the open, then in a fenced and allegedly sanitized Playground in front of Corporate building.
Who knows? I may be proven wrong...;-)

Sorry quite late here: please use these freely above wherever you feel the need: ,,,,,,,,,,,..


Last edited by Schattenspiegel on 6 June 2023 at 12:30 am UTC
Quoting: SchattenspiegelGreat. More division of the user-base and problem solving and guides will probably be incompatible between immutable and classic distros.
Also sounds like another step towards project walled garden. This is your system? This is our System! And we will remove the pesky choice of not using our in house container distribution system. Meaning developers will be more inclined to prioritize snap support over other packaging and so over time will the user-base. Let's face it: there is no home desktop user advantage compared to a well put together distro here in fact there is the potential for quite a lot of frustration like in chrome os or android when people with small problems or needs that should be easily solvable run into artificial brick walls placed there fore the cryptic promise of 'more security and stability'.There seems to be corporate interest though. One wonders why...
'But...think of the children!'- Yeah, I am. I'd rather see them explore and get their hands dirty and their clothes torn, once in a while, out in the open, then in a fenced and allegedly sanitized Playground in front of Corporate building.
Who knows? I may be proven wrong...;-)

Sorry quite late here: please use these freely above wherever you feel the need: ,,,,,,,,,,,..

The good news is that given the nature of Linux, there will always be distros that do it the "old fashioned way".
Quoting: Numeric
Quoting: TheSHEEEPFor desktops, I'm not sure about the use case.

Even without immutability, most big distros are already "it just works" - and in addition also offer more possibility to customize.

What it would offer is more security to not accidentally mess up your system, I'd wager.
But even then, that's what rollbacks are for, so... yeah, I'm really not sure about the use case on normal desktop.

The normal use case for immutability on the desktop, is the same reason immutability is the default on smartphones. I truly believe that the average human sees technology (in all forms) akin to that of an appliance or automobile. You push a button, engage with the controls, and it generates the expected response near every time. After providing voluntarily community IT support for many years, this impression is almost carved in stone within me.

At the core of it, the people I work with want to know very little about their PC (for a variety of reasons). Majority never even change the desktop wallpaper. They push the power button, then expect everything to work and be up to date. The younger ones do some customization, but defaults are king. Their systems take care of themselves and manual interaction is only performed when forced by system prompts. Linux can not enter this space without providing that which the current offerings have, which is an appliance-like nature by default. Automatic stable atomic updates, simple program installation, access to the majority of modern applications, and quick recoverability from technological hiccups are all needed to be baked in the operating system. Due to the functional structure of Linux and its FOSS subsystems, I truly respect the struggle that Fedora Silverblue/Kinoite, SteamOS, MicroOS Aeon, and now Ubuntu development teams are engaged in to make this experience come to light.

Those reading here on GamingOnLinux are near guaranteed to not be the category of people I have described above. Hopefully, the Linux community at large can grow to be more understanding of the need for immutable desktop operating system. Without a doubt, there is a commercial interest from the these Linux companies, but should we not be supportive all the same for getting FOSS into the hands of people who are currently being exploited by non-open systems? Give this time, let's not let snaps vs ostree vs native be the focus, these things sort themselves out. While Fedora Kinoite may be my current go-to recommendation for new Linux users, I am very curiosity to see how things play out on the snap front.


TL:DR Immutable OSes need to come for the masses to engage with Linux and FOSS at a system level. Average people have quite a different perspective on computers than tech-understanding users like the GamingOnLinux readership. On both the commercial and humanitarian fronts, Immutable OSes provide benefits and the established Linux community should do it best to support these efforts (or at the very least not publicly disparage the good that comes form it).

Edit: To clarify, my last sentence was not implying that your specific comment was disparaging. Rather it was direct to the generic Linux user/commentator that might be inflamed by immutables.
im someone who reads gaming on linux but i personally like my arch system running without any problems... once i set it up and do some customizations i dont really change much about it... since i set it up a few months ago it has been mostly unchanged minus daily updating... there has been no need to change it... it functions exactly as i want... so yeah i understand the concept of a computer should just work... tinkering can be fun but unless i have to i would rather not...
sarmad Jun 6
Quoting: DefaultX-od
Quoting: spayder26Friendly reminder that Snap is not free software due vendor lock-in (its sole package repository is proprietary).

So whatever Canonical decides to do with their base Snap OS is pretty irrelevant for the general linux ecosystem.

Total BS! If that was the truth, you would not be able to download and install Snaps outside of Snap Store, and Rudra (a teenage boy) would not be able to create an alternative store.

Well, maybe BS, but not total BS as there is some truth to what he said. The snap tech itself is open source, but by default it's tied to a proprietary backend. So, while the tech itself is open source, it has no use without the proprietary backend, which is why people don't view it as truly open source. However, technically anyone can build his own backend and then fork snap to support his new backend, which is exactly what Rudra did, but his backend is not usable on a default Ubuntu installation, and is probably impossible to use on Ubuntu Core. In order to use his backend you'll need to install his forked version of snap.
Well, to all the people who asked "If snaps is a universal package manager, when can I use it to install my kernel?" here you go.

For me, it's an interesting project. Snaps, while having certain issues with their GUI portion, for the most part seems to work pretty well on the back-end and non-GUI stuff. But it's just not for me, as I'm already too invested in Flatpak and Nix to deal with a Snaps-exclusive system. I guess I could invest further into Conty, but I like Nix as a way to manage my config and Flatpak for its sandboxing with certain apps.

Besides, I really like the cloud-native approach of uBlue, and while I considered trying out blendOS v3, in the end I'm not interested in doing package installation to host natively anymore and would rather use GitHub to test, build, and pull an image from (gotta love being able to charge Microsoft to build me my Linux system lol). So it's uBlue and Vanilla OS 2.0 only for me.
Quoting: Mountain ManI guess I don't understand how an immutable distro is significantly different in terms of security and stability from the current way of doing it with a locked root account. Aren't they basically different paths to the same end?
After dealing with Arch (glibc and grub update anyone?) and managing Ubuntu PPAs for the past few years, I just don't have the patience to deal with system updates and installing packages anymore. I want my system update to always succeed and I don't need to monitor it.

This is why I like uBlue's approach. System updates are done by GitHub, who compiles the image with all the packages I need (including the printer packages I specified), and I always get the latest successful builds. If an issue occurred, then I can see the log, and it wouldn't get shipped to me. Worst case, I could just rollback to a previous update and go on with my day.

This is how I want my system to be managed, and this works well for me.


Last edited by fenglengshun on 6 June 2023 at 6:41 am UTC
Linux desktop needed immutable desktop since forever. To definitively close the issue of system-breaking updates. This could help Linux adoption in the long run.
I'm okay with this.

While not a perfect solution, it makes the desktop such a more pleasant experience for the user.

Also, through diversity there is strength -- its nice each distro has differing advantages and strengths to play to.

Never play to your weaknesses, always play to your strengths.
dpanter Jun 6
Immutability in an OS does not prevent system breaking updates. It can be a part of a system that resists breaking like the way Steam Deck uses SteamOS, but in itself the immutable part does not save you from borkages.
Get something like BTRFS snapshots running instead if you want a rollback feature.
kokoko3k Jun 6
Want stable apps? Get immutable apps, take flatpak, take snaps.
Want stable os? Take an immutable OS.
Next step will be an immutable pc, a dumb terminal versus a virtual machine owned by someone else.

But yes, let's go with flatpak by now.


Last edited by kokoko3k on 6 June 2023 at 5:18 pm UTC
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