5 Major Developments in Desktop Linux in 2022
Linux is the dominant operating system on servers, but it’s much less well-known as a desktop operating system. Yet the Linux desktop has come a long way in the past decade, and the momentum isn’t slowing.
Linux development happens out in the open, but unless you know where to look, it’s easy to miss. Here are several major developments happening simultaneously to keep your eyes on.
1. Distros Embracing Flatpak for Distributing Apps
Installing software on Linux has long been a hit of a complicated story. Since there isn’t any one version of Linux, there isn’t any one package format. Windows has EXE. macOS has DMG. Linux has had DEBs, RPMs, PKG, tarballs, and the list goes on. A software package you could install on one distribution would not work on another.
Recent years have seen efforts to address that with so-called universal package formats that work regardless of what version of Linux you use. One is AppImage. Another is Snap. But among them, Flatpak is gaining the most traction among the most Linux distributions.
This has simplified the process of distributing apps. Apps that would have been exclusively available for elementary OS as DEBs are now available for any Linux distro as Flatpaks.
GNOME apps you would have to wait six months for the next version of GNOME to install are now available on day one on Flathub. And commercial, proprietary apps that may not have bothered coming to Linux at all are now just a click away.
Snaps and AppImages haven’t gone away. Snap in particular, as Ubuntu’s preferred format, probably sees the largest download numbers. But Snap’s appeal simply hasn’t spread far outside of Ubuntu, with even Ubuntu-based systems like elementary OS and Linux Mint choosing not to ship support for snap packages out of the box.
2. Light and Dark Styles Becoming the Norm
Dark themes have gone mainstream. Android and iOS have them. Windows and macOS have them too. People are more aware of the impact of blue light and LCD screens on their eyes. Some of us are particularly sensitive to bright pixels. Many opt to enable a dark theme at least some of the time, if only at night or when working with multimedia files.
Dark themes have long been available for Linux as somewhat of a hack. In recent years, elementary OS gained attention as a prominent Linux desktop that created a dark theme and treated it as a first-class citizen.
The team advocated for this feature to become broadly available throughout Linux desktops, various developers came together to do the work, and the feature has since become a free desktop specification that desktop environments and apps can easily support.
Dark theme support has made its way into the two largest Linux desktop environments, GNOME and KDE Plasma. Now we watch as more apps and themes better adapt to a dark theme.
3. Libadwaita Ushers In Modern App Design
There are many Linux desktop environments, but most of them share a common graphical toolkit known as GTK. GTK came around many years ago during the development of the popular GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). Now it is most commonly associated with the GNOME desktop environment.
Other desktop environments that opt to use GTK find themselves impacted by GNOME’s design decisions. Desktops like Cinnamon and Xfce use more traditional layouts with classic menubars, but some of the apps they use were designed with GNOME’s more modern design language in mind.
The toolkit was oriented toward GNOME’s priorities since GNOME developers do much of the development. This meant GTK was less desktop agnostic than the other prominent toolkit regularly used on Linux: Qt.
With the release of Libadwaita, GNOME is separating the GNOME-specific elements from GTK. This empowers other GTK-based desktops to continue using the toolkit without having to work against the GNOME-focused elements.
At the same time, Libadwaita enables GNOME apps to utilize all sorts of modern visual elements commonplace on smartphones but not yet the norm on the Linux desktop. Examples include gestures within apps and sliding animations between different app pages. These additions don’t only affect GNOME apps. elementary OS is utilizing aspects of Libadwaita too.
Multimedia on Linux can be a complicated affair. When it comes to audio, there’s JACK. There’s ALSA. There’s PulseAudio. Now there’s PipeWire.
On the surface, no, adding another media server doesn’t seem like much of a way to make things simpler. But where setting up JACK can take hours to learn, PipeWire is far more straightforward.
Is PipeWire a silver bullet just yet? Not quite. But it already makes some jobs easier, and as the technology matures, it can make Linux an easier solution to recommend for tasks like music creation and podcast production.
5. Steam Deck Improves Linux Gaming
Gaming on Linux has come a long way. No, it hasn’t surpassed Windows as the easiest way to get a game up in running, but in some cases, Linux does manage to be more performant. And when comparing Linux to macOS, Linux is the easy choice.
Not long ago, Linux users had to jump through many hurdles to get games up and running. While this is still not an uncommon experience, many games now simply work. Thanks to Proton, you can download a Linux-compatible game from Steam with a reasonable expectation that it will run without much fuss.
With the release of the Steam Deck, there’s a real chance that game developers will make an effort to ensure their games work well on Valve’s game console and, by extension, Linux PCs. Because at the end of the day, despite its form factor, the Steam Deck is just a Linux PC.
And if anti-cheat support becomes commonplace on the Steam Deck, then it will likely mean greater anti-cheat support for games on regular desktop Linux as well. This is big news for all those games that Linux gamers can play offline but find themselves prevented from taking online.
Are You Excited for 2022?
Desktop Linux is really hitting its stride. Sure, it hasn’t gained much market share, but that’s no reason not to enjoy this somewhat hidden gem.
With more computers shipping with Linux pre-installed than ever before, the barrier to entry is much lower. Linux is not without its quirks, but each year it is becoming easier to get, easier to use, and easier to recommend. And in 2022, there’s much to get hyped about.
Thinking about switching to Linux? Leaving Windows can be difficult, but if you get the preparation right, moving to Linux can be a breeze.
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