The information on which this entry is based is a couple of weeks old, but it is worth not giving it up for lost because of the implications it has. It is about the advance in the imposition of Snap as an application format in Ubuntu, although just in this aspect it does not have the usual negative bias; but above all it is about how after many years of hegemony, we are beginning to see signs of the fall of Ubuntu as the flagship of the Linux desktop. Starting with the games.
As they advanced on the Ubuntu blog, Canonical is packaging Steam for Ubuntu in Snap format, with “all the advantages that this entails”: a single package for all versions of the distro, dependencies included; and by dependencies they mention those of the Steam package, mainly the 32-bit libraries that caused so much controversy a few years ago, pitting the developers of Wine or Steam against those of Ubuntu, although as is known, everything ended well on the one hand and on the other. That and more.
The Steam Snap will include, in addition to the 32-bit dependencies, some drivers for Mesa (OpenGL, Vulkan, and OpenCL, among others), make it easier to update the package, and provide other benefits, such as better security thanks to the confinement model of Snap. This, at least, is how Canonical sells it, all with the intention of positioning Steam Snap as the only option as of Ubuntu 22.10, in the absence of seeing if Valve withdraws the Deb package that they distribute officially. Meanwhile, a beta testing period is being promoted.
Being consistent, it has its logic: the same one that the community has used to package Steam as a Flatpak, that is, to facilitate the update of the package, but not for users, but for developers. Speaking exclusively of Ubuntu, the official Steam Deb package is perfectly maintained, but it is true that if you can save yourself from also maintaining all those 32-bit dependencies, as well as the Mesa version, between different versions of the system, better than best.
Of course if we talk about gamers of those who are up-to-date with the hardware, having a well-updated graphic driver, without being essential in many cases, is highly recommended and although Ubuntu already provides the proprietary one from Nvidia, those from AMD and Intel are still linked to the Linux kernel . This is where distributions of type rolling release What Arch Linux and derivatives are making a dent in the hegemony of Ubuntu. And not little.
You will see: in that Ubuntu blog article they refer to the distribution as the most popular of Linux gaming… and it is true. They don’t lie. But they are a bit sad, when those of us who have followed the evolution of Linux on Steam find the slump that Ubuntu has hit since those early days, when his presence was overwhelming. Ubuntu is still the most popular Linux distro gaming, yes, but with a diminishing quota like never before seen and with nuances. With considerable nuances.
The capture that you can see on these lines corresponds to the statistics of the Steam survey of April 22 and, as we usually warn, these are not real absolute numbers, but an estimate, but it is the only one that exists and to which we stick to The numbers are a bit less kind to Ubuntu than the Ubuntu blog post, but that’s the trend. In essence, Ubuntu is still in the lead, and depending on how the percentages are put together, it can be interpreted one way or another.
For example, if we unite everything that Ubuntu occupies as such, the Canonical distro has a 19.8% share. Not even 20%. I mean, not even 20%! Ubuntu! If this looks good… Yes, if we add the percentages of direct derivatives such as Linux Mint or Pop!_OS, it rises to 31.56%, but there is data there that points in other less common directions, quite emphatically. Not to point out the obvious: neither Linux Mint nor Pop!_OS are Ubuntu, nor do they seem to be loaded with the Steam Snap.
Thus, Arch Linux alone has a 12.32% share, Manjaro 11.57%… and as a whole, 23.28%. The other actor in contention is the one that appears as “Description: Freedesktoop.org…” and is none other than the Steam client in Flatpak; and then there is the 38-odd percent that who knows what it includes, but very probably a bit of everything, also Ubuntu and derivatives.
These data refer only to the use of the Steam client on Linux and as I say, they are merely indicative, but that is how the statistics work. Well, a couple of days after Canonical made the announcement in question, Boiling Steam published another whose title says it all: The fall of Ubuntu as a gaming distro. The statement is supported by other statistics, those of SteamDB, and it is curious because the author has created a video to illustrate this fall. But not only for that.
The exercise that is marked in Boiling Steam is curious, because it does not collect the statistics of current use of Steam, and who says current, says the one that occurs by inertia, but those of the use of Steam Play or Proton, which doesn’t matter what you call it, because it’s the same thing: the technology that, supported by Wine, Valve introduced in the Steam client for Linux in 2018 and that allows you to play more and more Windows games more and more easily, every time with better results. And what has happened from 2018 until now? There goes the video.
The debate about whether native games or games with Proton is as healthy as any other, but we are not going to fool ourselves either: although many of us prefer them to be native, and there are even those who refuse to give up with anything else, reality goes at its own pace and Going against is usually not productive. Thus, there are many gamers Linux users, those who really play on Linux and spend their money on games, who are taking advantage of what Proton offers.
The question is, as you can see, Fewer and fewer Linux gamers are choosing Ubuntu as header distribution. And it doesn’t seem that packaging Steam as Snap, even though it seems like a good decision, is going to change what has been trending for years. It is true that gaming is just one of the pillars of the PC desktop, but it is one that attracts the most users, although it does not have the importance in Linux that it does in Windows. For now.
If we add to this the dissatisfaction of derived distributions and of many long-time users -among whom I include myself- due to that eagerness to embed Snap without regard and with the added impudence of doing it even when it has performance and integration problems that have not worked in years, while rejecting Flatpak -not as an alternative to Snap, simply as an additional option to other software sources- based on arguments to say the least… It doesn’t look good.
But this is another story, which in one way or another, we will go into depth in the coming days. Today’s article is about Ubuntu and games and you can see how the panorama is shown.