Ubuntu 20.04 LTS’ snap obsession has snapped me off of it

Once lauded for its sane defaults, the latest Ubuntu release has usability issues.

Like everyone else, I got excited about the latest Ubuntu LTS release, 20.04, and installed it on day one. A month in, I’m sorry to say that I leave disappointed. The amount of unready snap features being effectively forced onto Ubuntu is affecting my usability and user-friendliness.

Software center can’t install Flatpak apps

In 20.04 LTS, Ubuntu’s Software Center was switched from being a .deb version of GNOME Software to a snap app. The new snapped store can handle management of snap applications and traditional .deb ones, but it can’t install or remove Flatpak applications, like the .deb version could.

Users wanting to install Flatpak apps need to revert to using the .deb version. It’s not an ideal solution when previous Ubuntu Software releases could handle all three formats. In all, the latest Ubuntu Software is a step back.

Browsing the Snap Store sucks

Good apps, and finding them, are central to the success of any modern operating system. Even without Flatpak apps, I was expecting the snapped store to at least do what it's supposed to do well–help find apps. It turns out that instead Ubuntu prioritizes snap apps over .deb ones in store search results at any cost! So you’ll see a long list of non relevant entries of snap apps above .deb ones, even if your search term exactly matches the latter. -_-

Needless to say this is a serious issue for discovering software, especially for users switching from Windows or Mac. The snapped store isn’t just a step back, but is downright unreliable.

Slow and forced Chromium snap

On the latest Ubuntu, if you try to download the .deb version of Chromium using either the Software Store or the command line, it acts as an alias and installs the snap version! Essentially, Chromium snap is shoved down your throat even if you explicitly asked for the .deb version. This is not cool Ubuntu; Just because Chromium may be easier to maintain as a snap app doesn’t justify this forced behavior.

Besides, a typical user doesn’t care how the app is managed in the backend, all they care about is how it works. And that's another place where snaps don't shine. They are slow. I hate that Chromium’s snap takes more than 10 seconds to load on cold boot on a freaking SSD, whereas .deb and Flatpak apps load in 1-2 seconds. Snaps are simply not fast enough to be default anything yet.

No control over updates

Snap applications auto-update and that’s fine if Ubuntu wants to keep systems secure. But it can't even be turned off manually. Auto-updating of snaps can only be deferred at best, until at some point, like Windows, it auto-updates anyway. Even on metered connections, snaps auto-update after a threshold time. This is unacceptable. Even Apple has easy options to disable automatic software updates.

Ubuntu's update process with 20.04 LTS is a deal breaker for people on limited bandwidth connections or who want to know exactly what they’re updating and when they’d like to. Even at best, this behavior is causing me issues like slowing down my connection abruptly and using a major chunk of my limited data for the day. My discussion on the Ubuntu forums on the topic and many such raised issues by others didn’t go well, read the full thread if interested.

Closing thoughts

Ubuntu was my first Linux-based operating system and is what attracted me to the ecosystem. I have a soft spot for it, especially the amazing Unity days. As such, it is disappointing to see this snap obsession that has taken over Ubuntu. An OS once lauded for its sane defaults and user friendliness is actively going against the user’s will.

What’s especially concerning is that this is the Ubuntu version that millions of people will use for at least two years. I don’t hate snaps but being forced to use it especially when in a clearly premature state is forcing me to hate it. Snaps simply aren’t ready for system-wide daily usage and Ubuntu should’ve known better. Perhaps Ubuntu should've created a separate snap-based OS image, like Fedora's Silverblue, and only swap the default when it's ready.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS’ snap obsession has snapped me off of it. I have switched to macOS as my daily driver, for many other reasons. I don't have the time to keep fixing things on Linux Desktop and be constantly finding ways to work around standard OS features that should otherwise just be available and work.

For those on Linux, I recommend using Pop!_OS 20.04 instead of Ubuntu as it is basically Ubuntu but without the snap, and some unique features. elementary OS is what I use on my now secondary device, mainly because of its app ecosystem, excellent file manager and the welcoming nature of their developers for contributions and suggestions.

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