Weekly Journal 41 - Docker Desktop, Rancher Desktop


Docker’s recent change in their usage for Docker Desktop has made reconsider my use of Docker. Rancher has a nice looking desktop Kubernetes distribution with Rancher Desktop that could be a replacement.

Docker Desktop

Docker changed the usage terms for their Docker Desktop product at the end of August 2021. At the time, it made me feel a bit uneasy about using Docker’s products, but I could not really articulate why. I’ve had some time to think it through, and I feel I can better communicate my dislike about the changes Docker made, and why I won’t be recommending Docker to other people.

I am not against Docker making money from their work. If anything, the fact their new policy forces large companies to pay to use Docker Desktop is the one good thing out of this change. It’s a nice gesture that Docker is still making the software available to small businesses and individuals free of charge, but that comes with a subtle but important change. Whether you are a paying customer or not, you are no longer acquiring a license for Docker Desktop. Instead you are signing up for a subscription. I think what bothers me about this change is there is nothing to protect free users from being hit by a change to the subscription terms in the future. While Docker itself is open source software, Docker Desktop is mostly proprietary. Combined with the new subscription licensing terms, this means users will have no recourse if Docker decides to charge a fee to individual users in the future. If you decide you don’t want to upgrade to their new paid plan, they can terminate your subscription and remove your access to the software.

I have no idea if Docker is planning any sort of future bait-and-switch, but the way they have chosen to structure this deal leaves users wide open to the possibility.

Rancher Desktop

As a potential alternative, Rancher has released a new desktop Kubernetes tool called Rancher Desktop. Rancher Desktop is built around Rancher’s k3s lightweight Kubernetes distribution. Similar to Docker Desktop, it bundles tools together to allow you to build and run containers on a local system. There are a couple of things I really like about this idea. First, is that Rancher Desktop is fully covered by and open source license. Both k3s and the desktop tooling both use the Apache 2 license. Second, in most cases I would not deploy containerized applications using Docker in a production environment. Using a tool like Rancher Desktop means my local development environment will more like my eventual production environment.

Rancher Desktop is still in a pre-release/beta state, but it is improving very rapidly. I’m not quite ready to jump ship just yet, but I am continuing to monitor the progress of Rancher Desktop with the intent to switch as soon as I feel like it’s got enough functionality to support my development scenarios.

What’s Next?

We’re still wrapping up a couple of major projects at work, so my time is limited at the moment. Hoping we wrap everything up this coming week so I can get back to my own projects.