The Docker platform is all about app containers and containerization. If you’re new to containerization, it is a way of packing a software application and all its dependencies into a single image. Containers allow users to separate an application from its infrastructure, so the app works in a predefined way regardless of the environment.
Docker Desktop was a free open-source platform preferred by developers. But in January 2022, the company introduced a subscription policy that requires licensing for commercial users. The implementation of that policy has led their previously devoted free users to search for other Docker alternatives for mac and windows that deliver just as much value as Docker, or even better.
This article compiles a list of Docker Desktop free alternatives that can act as Docker replacements for your container ecosystem.
Docker and the Container Ecosystem
According to IBM, a container is a separate unit of software that stores an application’s code, its libraries, and dependencies.
There is a widespread misconception that Docker is all about containers only. Well, that’s not true and Docker is only part of the container ecosystem that consists of large, different projects. What unites the two is the requirement to meet the Open Container Initiative (OCI) and Kubernetes Container Runtime Interface (CRI) standards.
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What is Docker?
Docker is a simplified platform for development, shipping, and running containerized applications. The platform provides an open-source engine that automates the deployment of any application in a lightweight, self-contained space for on-premises and cloud use.
Docker architecture overview
Docker was the first company to ever package the advanced Linux kernel features. This made development and deployment faster. Instead of building an entire server from scratch to run a service application, you could run a Docker container image on the host and start the application, using a few host resources in multiple environments.
An image is a read-only, organized collection of filesystem changes that form the basis of a container. A container is a runnable instance of an image. Each container has its own filesystem, memory, and network interface. Also, containers are much lighter than virtual machine (VM) images.
7 Reasons Why Developers Look For Docker Container Alternatives
Docker products are on a whole new level. Portability, isolation, scalability, consistency, repeatability, and automation are just a few features you can expect from Docker tools. However, there is still a downside to using Docker tools. Below are some of the most common reasons why developers look for the Docker alternative for Windows or mac:
The first issue in Docker is the connection between services when it comes to routing, security, or detection. There is limited security in the Docker architecture itself. A user with access to the Docker daemon has root advantage over the host system.
Docker can’t manage the container launch order. Though it has an orchestration tool called Docker Swarm, its functionality is limited compared to powerful orchestrators like Kubernetes. Besides, Docker Swarm works only with Docker containers.
Docker does not provide 100% isolation of resources between containers. And, there could be a mess in the images repository as all the users have the power to change something.
The Docker daemon service is responsible for all the work with registries, images, containers, and the kernel. But, a single service means an increased risk of failure. When a daemon process fails, all the running containers are left on their own.
Docker interferes with the system firewall by adding its own firewall rules to the system. There is no reliable way to manage network access to the container through the firewall. Additionally, there is an issue when combining Docker with other services that try to manage the firewall, for example, with a VPN client-server.
Docker Hub Issues
Docker Hub registry contains both official and non-official images. Most of the non-official images are poorly built and have vulnerabilities. The authors of such images usually don’t provide any quality guarantees or support either.
There are multiple ways to install Docker. But some features may stop working or may work unexpectedly when doing the custom installations.
Docker Desktop and What Has Changed
Docker Desktop has recently caught the attention of the container community after the new changes in its subscription policy.
Docker Desktop (DD) is an all-in-one application for mac or Windows environments that enables building and sharing containerized applications and microservices. Docker Desktop includes Docker Engine, Docker CLI (Command Line Interface) client, Docker Compose, Kubernetes, just to mention a few.
Docker Desktop on mac and Windows is a way to run Linux (create a Linux VM) so that Docker Engine can work.
What has changed in the Docker licensing policy?
The Docker company made an announcement in August 2021 that it would be making changes to its Docker Desktop subscription terms. The change was to become effective in January 2022 but there was a grace period in between for Docker Desktop users to decide on a subscription plan if they want to continue using the Docker Desktop license. Otherwise, they will have to switch to other Docker free alternatives.
The officials expressed that these changes are vital to the improvement of their product and scaling their business. With Docker Desktop now reaching 3.3 million installations, the company is one big step closer to its goals.
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The New Subscription Policy
Based on the new subscription policy, only the Personal subscription plan is free – it is available for small businesses, individual use, and non-commercial open-source projects. If a company, however, has more than 250 employees or its revenue is greater than $10 million, it will have to use one of the paid subscriptions: Pro, Team, or Business. Simply put, large business users must go for a Docker Desktop enterprise license to get additional features – secure software supply chain management, centralized policy visibility, and controls. Smaller businesses will enjoy Docker Desktop for free.
Note: If you don’t need Docker Desktop, then nothing has changed for your business – you can still choose any tool (Docker, Podman, CRI-O, etc.) for container creation and orchestration.
When do you really need Docker Desktop?
Docker Desktop is for people who crave a simplified installation process but don’t want to use the command line. Docker Desktop facilitates easy Docker setup and integration with WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux).
Speaking of Linux, Docker Desktop may still not be fully available for Linux users. The thing is DD is supported on mac and Windows only. But to use Docker in non-Linux operating systems, developers need a Virtual Machine and that’s what Docker Desktop does. Everything else (Docker CLI, Docker Engine, and other Docker tools) remains free and open source under the Apache v.2 license.
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Docker Desktop Alternatives
When using Docker Desktop you’ll probably find the issues in Docker mentioned above. Some of these issues were partially solved with the paid subscriptions. For example, the Business plan provides centralized management, enhanced security, and SAML SSO in the near future. But others (together with the new per-user-per-month tariffication) of the DD, may force you to search for alternatives to Docker Desktop.
You can replace Docker Desktop with one of the following alternatives:
Podman is a popular alternative to Docker Desktop that provides a simple and familiar interface for managing containers. It allows you to run, manage, and deploy containers using the Docker command-line interface (CLI) syntax, without the bulky weight of using a separate daemon to manage containers. Podman allows users to create, manage store and deploy Linux Kernel, and its containers independent of any central process. Instead, the containers are started as child processes of the Podman process, heavily using user namespaces and network namespaces. Podman also supports rootless mode, which allows non-root users to run containers without needing elevated permissions.
Another remarkable advantage of Podman in contrast to Docker is that Podman addresses the security issues with Docker. Additionally, Podman uses traditional Linux process management and security features, such as cgroups and SELinux, which can provide enhanced security for containerized applications.
Podman also has built-in support for Kubernetes, which means you can use Podman as a drop-in replacement for Docker with Kubernetes deployments. This makes it easier to migrate from Docker to Podman in Kubernetes environments without major modifications to existing deployment configurations.
Rancher Desktop, a free open-source application for mac, Windows, and Linux which simplifies building, pushing, pulling, running container images, and also includes Kubernetes. It’s simple to use and has a built-in GUI.
Rancher Desktop is also compatible with multiple cloud providers, making it easier for developers to deploy their applications to production environments. The key difference between Docker and Rancher Desktop is that Rancher has a broader focus on Kubernetes and multi-cloud deployment.
Containerd is a container runtime that is part of the Docker ecosystem but can also be used as a standalone alternative. It provides a lightweight and high-performance option for running containers and is compatible with the Open Container Initiative (OCI) runtime specification.2
Containerd is designed to be a simple and lightweight container runtime focused on doing one thing well – running containers. It provides essential container runtime functionality without the additional features and complexity that Docker offers, which makes it a good fit for users who prefer a minimalistic approach or have specific use cases that don’t require all the features that Docker provides. It follows a modular architecture, with a clear separation of concerns between its components. This modular design allows users to choose and swap components, such as containerd’s built-in container image service and container runtime, with other components that fit their specific needs. This gives users more flexibility and customization options compared to Docker, which is more monolithic in its architecture.
Minikube is another excellent Docker Desktop replacement for local container development. It is specifically designed for Kubernetes, a popular container orchestration platform. Minikube allows you to run a single-node Kubernetes cluster on your local machine, making it easy to develop, test, and deploy containerized applications using Kubernetes. With Minikube, you can create and manage Docker containers as part of your Kubernetes cluster, giving you a seamless experience for Kubernetes-based development.
Minikube is part of the Kubernetes ecosystem and is designed to work seamlessly with Kubernetes, which is one of the most popular container orchestration platforms. Minikube provides an easy way to spin up a local Kubernetes cluster, allowing developers to test their applications in a Kubernetes-like environment before deploying to a production Kubernetes cluster.
It provides a simple and easy setup process, allowing developers to quickly set up a local Kubernetes cluster with a single command. It also provides management commands to start, stop, and delete clusters, making it easy to manage local Kubernetes environments.
LXD is a containerization technology that provide an alternative to Docker Desktop for Linux users. LXD is more similar to traditional virtualization technologies like VMs, where you can run complete OS distributions with their own init systems, users, and processes. This makes it suitable for running workloads that require full OS-level isolation and separation, such as running multiple Linux distributions with their own kernels on a single host. LXD also provides features like container snapshots, live migration, and clustering, making it a powerful tool for advanced container use cases.
LXD is designed for running stateful applications that require persistent storage and state preservation across container restarts. It provides better support for running databases, file servers, and other stateful applications, as it allows for the management of persistent storage volumes and supports features like live migration and snapshots. It also provides a unified management experience for both containers and VMs, making it easy to manage and configure both types of virtualization technologies in a single interface. This can be beneficial in scenarios where you need to run both containers and VMs on the same host.
What To Consider Before You Choose the Right Docker Desktop Alternative that Will Fit Your Requirements
Choosing the right alternative to Docker Desktop depends on your specific requirements. Here are some considerations to help you make an informed decision:
- Features and Functionality: DD provides a rich set of features, such as container orchestration with Docker Swarm, image layering, networking, and volume management. When considering alternatives, ensure that they offer the features and functionality that are relevant to your specific use case.
- Containerization vs. Virtualization: DD uses containerization, which allows for lightweight and efficient isolation of processes while sharing the host OS kernel. Virtualization, on the other hand, creates a separate virtual machine with its own OS. If you need lightweight and fast deployment, containerization may be a better fit. If you require stronger isolation between processes or need to run different operating systems, virtualization might be more suitable.
- Ecosystem and Community: Docker has a large and mature ecosystem with a vast community of developers and users, which means extensive documentation, support, and a wide range of Docker-compatible images available in the Hub. When considering alternatives, check for the size and activity of the community, available documentation, environmental variables and the overall ecosystem to ensure good support and a strong community.
- Ease of Use: Docker Desktop is known for its user-friendly command-line interface and easy-to-understand Dockerfile syntax for building container images. When evaluating alternatives, consider the ease of use, the learning curve, and the developer experience. Look for tools that offer similar simplicity and ease of use.
- Performance: Docker runs efficient and high-performance containerization technology. When evaluating alternatives, consider the performance characteristics, such as container startup time, resource utilization, and overall performance overhead.
- Platform Support: DD is available for a wide range of platforms, including Linux, Windows, and macOS. Make sure that the alternative you are considering supports the platform(s) you are planning to use.
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The above list is not conclusive. There are several other containers out there that are effective Docker free alternatives for developers. If you are still not sure about which option is best for you, or would like to have an expert’s opinion to determine the best Docker alternatives for Windows or mac. We are here to help.
ModLogix is a company that specializes in upgrading legacy software. Our goal is to help our customers upgrade their existing applications and take advantage of the latest technologies and architectures, while also improving quality and maintenance.
In the container ecosystem, there are no “Docker containers”, there are just “containers”, and there are no “Docker images”, just “container images.” You are free to use any alternative containers to Docker, as long as it follows the industry standards around container formats and runtimes.
Please remember that Docker is a tool. To use it effectively, you need an experienced development team or software consultant. This team that understands Docker commands will know how to mitigate any issue in Docker. Sometimes, the best option is to use lightweight virtual machines. In other cases, using more specialized tools may help. It all boils down to the purpose, project goals, and application features.
The only Docker product that is without a fully equipped substitute is Docker Desktop alternative for mac and Docker Desktop alternative on Windows. But, it’s only a matter of time before other companies launch products that can substitute DD. For now, try analyzing if the Docker Desktop free alternative provides any additional value for your business or not. If you don’t use any Docker Desktop features beyond what Docker itself is offering, it’s worth considering other options. But if there is significant additional value, it’s worth paying for the out-of-the-box functionality.
For more information about Docker and its products, don’t hesitate to get your consultation from our tech experts.
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