Meet Vanilla OS, a Linux distribution that aims to create a true Vanilla Gnome experience on Ubuntu

Ubuntu Linux is, without doubt, the most famous Linux distribution in the world, and it is the base for building many other popular Linux distributions such as Linux Mint, elementary OS, and Zorin OS. but and although Ubuntu comes with a modified desktop interface based on GNOME, and most of the core GNOME applications can be installed on Ubuntu, the distro does not achieve the experience of the pure GNOME desktop environment experience or what is known as the Vanilla experience, and there is no other distribution based on Ubuntu that achieves this unique experience.

In an attempt to achieve this experience, Mirko Brombin has created a new Linux distribution called VanillaOS, which seeks to provide the vanilla GNOME experience on Ubuntu with some useful changes, without any change in the user experience.

VanillaOS has been in development since last September, and only a few days ago it became available for an open beta. The open beta's goal is to enable developers and testers to participate in testing the distribution and troubleshooting problems and bugs in it, to report or help fix them, before the first stable release of the distro is out next month.

The first release of the distribution will be based on the just-released Ubuntu 22.10, and the distro will follow the Ubuntu release cycle, so we can expect a VanillaOS 23.04 release next spring. and unlike Ubuntu which forces users to use the Snap packaging format, Vanilla OS offers users during the system setup, the choice to choose between using Flatpak, Snap, or AppImage formats or using them all at the same time.

Vanilla OS is an on-demand immutable distribution where the system is in read-only mode to protect it from being corrupted, either by unwanted changes being made by a third-party application or when performing a faulty update. At the same time, some OS paths such as the home directory are still writable, enabling the user to store his personal files and ensure the normal functioning of installed applications.

When the user needs to make a change to the system like editing a configuration file that is not in the common directories or installing drivers, he can use a built-in utility called "almost», to temporarily disable the system immutability, making the system writable to enable the user to make the desired changes and then return the system to its original state. the "almost" utility has no support for snapshots, so any change made to the system is permanent and cannot be reverted without restoring from a backup or downgrading the system.

Vanilla OS has an alternative package manager to apt for Ubuntu called apx, which is a package manager based on the idea of installing programs in isolated managed containers, to protect the root system from the risk of breaking due to incompatible, poorly constructed, or conflicting packages.

 These containers are fully managed by apx and have restricted access to your system’s resources, while still being able to use the same drivers, display server, etc. This container can be bypassed using the '--sys' flag, although is not recommended when desiring to install a package that cannot be installed on a managed container such as a kernel module.

Meanwhile, “Your home directory is mapped inside the container, so you can access your configuration files, preferences, and other vital data needed by the installed packages, as well as being able to access your own files from the installed software, e.g., by opening a file in LibreOffice” according to the distro website.

The apx package manager also supports installing packages from the Arch User Repository (AUR) by using the "--aur" flag, thus creating a second Arch Linux-based container inside Vanilla OS to do this process, and Vanilla OS developers also plan to add support for the Nix package manager as well in the future.

Vanelli OS is still in its development stage, and it is at this stage unstable and not suitable for daily use (even if it is a beta release), and some of the features may not work as expected, but it is definitely a great and promising project that will provide a pure GNOME experience based on Ubuntu, which is something users have been dreaming about for a long time.

Lastly, the open beta of VanillaOS can be downloaded directly from the distro's iso-builder Github repository, by selecting the latest workflow (first link at the top) Then scroll down the page to find the distro download link under the Artifacts section (VanillaOS 22.10). The OS will be downloaded in zip format, all you have to do is decompress it and you will find the ISO file inside the resulting amd64 folder. 

You can find more information about vanilla OS on their official website (still in development, some sections are not yet complete), or on their official Discord channel.

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