Canonical brings tailor-made Linux containers for special applications

With the Ubuntu appliance program, manufacturer Canonical brings specialized Linux derivatives for very specific applications. This can be of particular interest to private users and small teams.

A Linux with a single main application – that’s the idea behind the Ubuntu applianceswho have developed Canonical with various partners. We are working on Ubuntu appliances for the Plex media server, the self-hosted collaboration solution Nextcloud, the home automation solution OpenHAB and a few others.

One device, one task – the Raspberry Pi philosophy

The Ubuntu appliances turn any small computer, such as the Raspberry Pi, into a device that specializes in fulfilling a single task. If you want, you can of course use a fully-fledged, possibly decommissioned PC as the new basis for your home automation or media server.

In this way, Canonical wants to “enable safe, self-healing devices for a single purpose,” says product manager Rhys Davies in the blog post to introduce the appliance program. Since the Ubuntu Appliance will be tailored to a very specific purpose, there is no need for self-installation and configuration, as would previously have been necessary with a generalized Ubuntu instance.

Canonical is thus picking up on a development that has shown itself in recent years with the rise of the Raspberry Pi craft computers: People apparently do not want one large home computer that does all the tasks, but value small, manageable units that are flexible can be used for very specific purposes.

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Specialization offers several advantages

This has obvious advantages. For example, the entire household is not immediately paralyzed if only the specialized media server fails and needs to be repaired. In addition, the small specialists are much cheaper to get than a generalist car with reserves for all possible fields of application.

The Ubuntu developers have high demands on their own appliances. It should be enough to load the appropriate appliance onto the intended device and start it there. To keep the appliances as compact as possible, Canonical uses Ubuntu Core, the embedded version of its Linux OS that has been slimmed down to around 250 megabytes, which only contains the components required for technical operation and has a particular focus on security.

Appliance images rely on snap package management

Canonical wants to make any necessary updates available via the controversial Snap format. This makes sense insofar as the so-called snaps, i.e. the application packages that can be installed via the snap store, the integrated software management, are themselves images.

According to Canonical’s philosophy, it is precisely this property that speaks in favor of Snap package management. Because this means that the snaps only have to be created once per architecture. This is a significant relief from the previous procedure, in which applications for different versions had to be created with different compilers. In addition, the containerization of the apps as a snap package adds an additional level of security to the system. The apps run in a virtual sandbox.

About community participation in Ubuntus Discourse anyone can suggest further useful appliances and discuss them with others. Canonical wants to use this to develop findings for the further roadmap.

Fittingly: New annoyance for Canonical: Ubuntu’s snap store angered the open source community


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