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Linux Mint 20 reins in belligerent snapd over stealth installs

The Linux Mint logo on a green background

In the latest monthly news update from the Linux Mint team it was announced that Linux Mint 20 will take measures to rein in the snapd package after Canonical (the firm behind Ubuntu) decided to make it a dependency for some software, including Chromium, despite promising not to earlier on. With Linux Mint 20, when a user tries to install snapd-dependent software, they’ll be notified that the software can’t be installed and why. It’ll also explain to the user how they can go about downloading the software.

To be clear, the Linux Mint team isn’t against people installing snapd, you can still do this very easily, however, the developers did have a problem with snapd being installed as a dependency. According to the Linux Mint team, some problems with snap packages include that they cannot be patched, audited, held at the current version, or modified. It also said that you can’t choose to install them from a third-party store. The project even went as far as to say that these snap packages give you as much empowerment as proprietary software; none.

Linux Mint, while an independent distro, uses the same package base as Ubuntu; this means the Linux Mint project either has to accept issues like this or find a workaround, as they've opted to do in this case.

Several releases ago, the Linux Mint project opted to follow most other Linux distributions down the flatpak path. Flatpak and snap allow users to download self-updating software that comes bundled with all of its required dependencies. Canonical’s Ubuntu is the major driver of snap packages but they’ve been met with some scepticism by the rest of the Linux community who feel like snaps give Canonical too much power.

Overall, Linux Mint’s decision to prevent stealth installs is largely correct, however, it must ensure that people can still proceed to install the software they want if they don’t mind snapd being installed. One of the main reasons new users pick Linux Mint is because it has removed barriers to entry and therefore it should ensure that snapd-dependent software is easily installable while offering users a choice about snapd.

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