Boxes + Flatpak

TL;DR: You can now install GNOME Boxes directly from Flathub! 🎉


Why are we so excited about this?

It might seem at first sight that Boxes is a simple application, and that is partially true if you ignore the deep stack under the hood responsible for making virtualization simple™. The various modules (some of them gigantic such as qemu, libvirt, freerdp…) need to be setup in perfect harmony for us to boot a whole operating system with its essential functionalities.

The GNU/Linux distribution model has historically delegated to downstream packagers the responsibility of integrating dependencies in order to provide an application to their end users. This model has worked for some for many decades, but it has fundamental flaws that “trickle down” making the upstream developers’ life miserable.

Don’t get me wrong, bugs are mostly our fault, but a significant amount of bug reports I receive consist of issues I cannot reproduce in my development environment. A combinatorial explosion of package versions, build flags, and/or pivotal architecture differences between distros.

Therefore this is the first and foremost benefit we get from shipping Boxes as a Flatpak.

Another difficulty we face during our development cycle is having the ability of having designers, translators, and marketing folk being able to run our latest snapshot or a specific work-in-progress tree. With the GitLab continuous integration combined with Flatpak we can spin bundles at any moment, and they can be installed within a couple of clicks, alongside other versions of the same app! This is The Future!

Having our apps widely available is another concern we have. Many distributions which stick to the package model also support Flatpak. Besides that, there are new players which are essentially different. Container-based desktop operating systems are a thing now too.

Software is never done…

There are indeed downsides of running Boxes in a Flatpak in comparison with a well crafted build of dependencies bottom-up. But these are issues that can be solved and are going to be prioritized in our TODO list.

Running Boxes in a Flatpak TODAY you won’t have yet:

  • A bridged network between host and guests.
  • The ability of installing an image from a physical device.
  • Access to your system’s libvirtd (we run our own libvirtd in the sandbox).
  • Shared folders.
  • USB redirection.

The list above is far from complete, and I would like to count on you to experiment with the Flatpak and report issues you might encounter. Use the label “flatpak” to collect points which you can later exchange for beers or other beverages of your choice. 😉