The introduction of a “minimal install” mode in the Ubuntu installer has been one of the distro’s best-received features in years.
When selected during initial install Ubuntu’s ‘minimal install’ gives users a complete, fully-functioning Ubuntu system with fewer pre-installed apps. The exact same ISO also delivers a ‘full installation’ mode stacked with swathe of software – this is the default, recommended option.
So having added a feature that users like Ubuntu is now, umm, thinking about removing it.
The plan: a new “unified default install”. This, from the sounds of things, will focus on a minimal install by default, with a “choose your own apps” experience. Not an awful ideal granted – it’s an approach I’ve seen many Linux users advocate for over the years.
The rub is that the new experience will be powered by Ubuntu’s all-new Snap Store app — and that won’t please everyone.
New Approach: Choose Your Own Apps
Ubuntu’s Director of Engineering says the current ‘minimal or full’ choice as “not-quite-right”. Thus they plan — read: have already decided — to try a new unified install approach that lets users select apps to install/add during install time.
“With widespread Internet access today, obtaining the necessary apps is no longer a hurdle. This streamlined approach could reduce ISO size, decrease testing needs, and simplify the installation process,” he says.
Smaller ISO sizes are a vaunted aim (and something Ubuntu could do with) but would getting users to select their own software actually “simplify the installation process”?
To me it sounds like it’d slow it down as you’d need to stop and think about whether you need a video player (and if so, which one), try and evaluate your office suite needs, and so on.
Plus, it’s already possible for users to select the apps they want — and has been since forever. It’s what
apt and the Ubuntu Software app are for.
The proposal talks up a minimal default install but later mentions that some apps need to come pre-installed in order to “offer a coherent out-of-the-box experience”.
I’d argue the the current default install, in both minimal and full-fat editions, already offers a coherent out-of-the-box experience — so what problem is this actually solving? I’m not sure.
With a cynical hat on I have to say this effort sounds like an unsubtle way to try and on-board users into using Snap versions of software since, as mentioned, this whole effort will be powered by and fronted using the new “Snap-first” app store.
We learned this week that the new sore will demote DEB software in its search results. Thus when a user looks for software they know, such as LibreOffice, only the Snap version is presented as available to install — one way to get those Snap install numbers up 🤭.
Ubuntu Does Need Better Defaults
I’ve long felt Ubuntu has needed to shake up the software it ships with. Totem for example is no-one’s favourite video player and superior open-source alternatives exist.
But Ubuntu was hitherto all about shipping sane defaults that “just work” for most people and, notably in this case, providing the best open-source software has to offer.
I accept not everyone needs all of the software Ubuntu currently comes with — I don’t think I’ve ever opened LibreOffice Draw, for example — but a curated set of apps has upsides, like ensuring good-quality open-source software gets seen and used.
Prompting users to pick their own apps from the (to be blunt, rather weak) selection of apps available in the new Snap Store feels regressive. It’d be like a ‘browser ballot’ for everything – but how many people know whether they should use X vs Y vs Z?
Still, this is all in flux. I expect we’ll learn more about this effort in the coming months.
Ubuntu may replace its “minimal installation” option with a new “unified install image”. This will be minimal by default and allow users to install the software they want to use …which they can already do using the minimal installation option that already exists…
Let me know what you think below!