End-User Desktop Applications in ClearLinux

Auke-jan H Kok

16 Nov, 2016

ClearLinux is a narrow-focused Linux* distribution for cloud computing, container technology, and virtualization technology development.

Due to this focus, the ClearLinux team engages heavily in the core development goals and priorities. Our focus on core technology improves VM performance, containers, and security among others. At the same time, we want to use ClearLinux in our everyday development workflow and process, as well as make it easier for our developers to test and use functional improvements. We have included a functional Xfce4 based desktop environment for a while within the `os-utils-gui` bundle for this very reason.

Unfortunately, it is time-consuming to maintain lots of useful end-user graphical desktop applications. Consequentially, we have packaged only a minimal selection of desktop applications. This list has been limited to Firefox*, Thunderbird*, Hexchat*, and a handful of other basic utilities. It is very likely that we will continue to package very few desktop applications in the future.

Flatpak

Fortunately, the development of sandboxed desktop applications has taken off in the last few years. flatpak* is now widely available and offers end users a limited sandbox environment for applications as well as installation and update mechanisms. Application vendors are currently distributing applications and updates to end users running a Linux distribution that supports flatpak.

The `os-utils-gui` bundle now includes the flatpak support for ClearLinux. The bundle makes installation and updating of flatpak software, runtimes, and bundles possible. ClearLinux users can install and run software without sudo privileges and tap into the flatpack software community.

There are several flatpak repositories online and they offer software such as Gimp*, Inkscape*, LibreOffice*, and many others. flatpak.org keeps a list of flatpak applications (http://flatpak.org/apps.html).

Other projects and vendors host their own flatpak repositories.

For more information on how to install and start applications, visit http://flatpak.org/index.html#users and start at "2. Add repositories".

To start using flatpak in ClearLinux:

  1. Enter `sudo swupd bundle-add os-utils-gui`.
  2. Create a user account.
  3. Use the console to log into the normal user account.
  4. Enter `startx` and follow the instructions from http://flatpak.org/index.html#users.

Considerations

We hope that the availability of flatpak in ClearLinux encourages our users to use ClearLinux for new use cases that were previously unsupported or difficult. We are aware that flatpak applications may pose security concerns that should be carefully considered, as these applications have to ship their own libraries. The flatpak providers must properly secure these components. Users of flatpak should update their flatpak applications regularly since updates are not automated yet.

Additionally, flatpak software is not inherently optimized for ClearLinux hardware and, therefore, lacks the optimizations implemented in ClearLinux. This drawback is a fundamental issue of the containerized application design. We hope to provide useful software through flatpak repositories to our developers. In the long term, the availability of this software should increase the number of ClearLinux users and the number of contributions to the flatpak projects and the flatpak repository maintainers.

For more information on flatpak, visit http://flatpak.org/

 

Auke Kok

 

*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.