Docker Desktop License Changes and Alternatives

Docker Desktop License Changes and Alternatives

Docker Desktop License Changes and Alternatives

Docker Desktop License Changes and Alternatives

Docker Desktop License Changes and Alternatives

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Docker Desktop's Recent License Changes and Future Directions

Docker has been at the forefront of containerization, constantly evolving to meet the needs of developers and enterprises alike. Recent changes to Docker Desktop's licensing and new developments provide a glimpse into Docker's strategic direction.

Subscription Updates and Goals

Docker introduced a Business subscription targeting large enterprises, designed to tackle challenges such as visibility and control over content, management of local resources, and scalable Docker development environments. This subscription is offered at $21 per user per month, billed annually, maintaining Docker's commitment to supporting individual developers, small businesses, and educational entities with its Docker Personal subscription at no cost.

2023 Highlights and the AI/ML Focus

The year 2023 has been pivotal for Docker, with a significant focus on AI/ML. Docker unveiled the GenAI Stack, in collaboration with Neo4j, LangChain, and Ollama, facilitating the deployment of a comprehensive GenAI stack. Furthermore, Docker's partnership with Hugging Face aims to democratize AI, ensuring its accessibility to software engineers.

Licensing Clarifications

Docker has updated its licensing to clearly define the free and paid versions. Docker Desktop remains free for individual use, small businesses, educational purposes, and non-commercial open source projects. The Docker CLI and Docker Community Edition (CE) are also available for free under certain conditions, highlighting Docker's commitment to the developer community.

Technical Advances and Docker Compose Updates

Significant technical enhancements have been introduced, including optimization features for builds with cache, advanced Dockerfile syntax management, and improvements in continuous integration. Docker Compose updates enhance environment variable management and networking capabilities, among others, enriching the developer experience.

Enterprise User Impact

The transition to a paid model for enterprise users reflects Docker's strategy to ensure business sustainability while offering value across all subscriptions. The introduction of the Business tier, with its focus on features like Image Access Management, addresses the critical need for software supply chain security.

Assessing the Business Tier

Businesses are evaluating the benefits of the Business tier against its costs, considering the importance of securing their software supply chains. Docker's integrated services offer a compelling value proposition that may justify the higher price for enterprises focused on enhancing their security posture.

History of Docker Desktop

Docker has been a crucial part of the container revolution. For many of us, the first time running a container was through Docker Desktop. Kubernetes used to be completely dependent on Docker. Kubernetes and the cloud-native ecosystem has evolved. There is no longer a direct reliance on Docker. Because of this, Docker has had to reinvent itself. Part of that included changing their pricing model. Docker Desktop remains free for small businesses, personal use, education, and non-commercial open-source projects. For professional use in larger businesses, a paid subscription is required.

Docker Desktop remains a great tool, and it does provide some really cool features out of the box. If you are looking for another option, you aren't alone -- these service agreement changes have driven a lot of people to other tools.

Docker Desktop Alternatives

There are many alternatives to Docker Desktop. The right one for you depends on your use-case and expertise. If you are working at a larger enterprise, then I recommend making your local setup as close to your production environment as possible. If you're a part of a smaller organization or doing work on the side, then I would choose the lightest weight option.

My personal favorite is Podman. As a Certified Kubernetes Administrator, I am always working from the command line and Podman feels the most natural to me. The CLI is very simlar to what I was used to with Docker. It also allows you to get closer to replicating your production environment - without having to run Kubernetes locally.

Feature/ToolDocker DesktopMinikubeRancher DesktopPodman Desktop
Primary UseContainerization and orchestration tool offering a simple and integrated environment for developing, managing, and deploying Docker containers and Kubernetes clusters.Focuses on providing a local Kubernetes cluster primarily for development and testing purposes.Container management and Kubernetes orchestration tailored for developers, with an emphasis on a simple and intuitive interface for desktop environments.Container management tool that provides a daemonless, rootless means to create, manage, and deploy containers and work seamlessly with Kubernetes.
Platform CompatibilityWindows, macOSWindows, macOS, LinuxWindows, macOS, LinuxWindows, macOS, Linux
InstallationDownload and install from Docker’s official site.Download and install via direct download or package managers.Download and install via official installers for respective platforms.Download and install from official site or repositories; Podman Desktop will install Podman if not already present.
Container RuntimeDocker EngineDocker or chosen alternativecontainerd, Docker, or chosen alternativecontainerd, Docker, or chosen alternative
Kubernetes IntegrationBuilt-in Kubernetes support.Single-node Kubernetes cluster.Kubernetes support with easy version selection and cluster management.Native Kubernetes support with podman play kube and compatibility with YAML files.
Graphical User Interface (GUI)Yes, provides an intuitive GUI for managing containers and Kubernetes clusters.No, primarily CLI-based but with third-party GUI options available.Yes, provides a comprehensive GUI for managing containers and Kubernetes resources.Yes, provides a user-friendly GUI for managing containers and Kubernetes objects.
Rootless OperationNo, runs containers with Docker daemon as root by default.Yes, supports rootless mode.Yes, supports rootless mode.Yes, primarily focuses on rootless container operation.
Security FeaturesStandard Docker security features.Focus on isolating development environment with VMs.Emphasis on secure container runtime and cluster management.Enhanced security with daemonless architecture; no need to run containers as root.
ExtensibilityExtensive plugin and extension support.Can be extended with addons.Extensible with various container engines and Kubernetes providers.Offers extension points for additional functionality.


Minikube is an innovative tool designed to create a local Kubernetes cluster on a personal computer, providing a seamless environment for developers to test and develop applications within a Kubernetes setting. As a lightweight Kubernetes distribution, it's tailored for application developers and newcomers to Kubernetes, making it a perfect tool for learning and development purposes.

Key Features of Minikube

Cross-platform Compatibility: Minikube is versatile, supporting macOS, Linux, and Windows, ensuring a broad user base can access Kubernetes environments locally without the need for complex setups. Flexible Deployment Options: It offers deployment as a VM, a container, or on bare metal, catering to various developer preferences and system requirements. Multiple Container Runtimes: Supports CRI-O, containerd, and Docker, providing flexibility in choosing the underlying container runtime. Advanced Networking and Storage: With features like LoadBalancer, filesystem mounts, and network policy, Minikube mirrors a comprehensive Kubernetes experience. Add-ons and CI Environment Support: It includes add-ons for easily installed Kubernetes applications and supports common Continuous Integration environments, enhancing development and testing workflows. Installation and Getting Started Getting started with Minikube is straightforward. You'll need a machine running Linux, macOS, or Windows, along with a hypervisor like VirtualBox or KVM for Linux/macOS or Hyper-V for Windows. Installation involves a simple command to download Minikube and add it to your system's path, making it accessible from anywhere in your shell environment.

Practical Usage

Minikube simplifies the Kubernetes experience by enabling the deployment of a single-node Kubernetes cluster with just a minikube start command. This ease of setup is ideal for development, testing, and educational purposes, allowing users to focus on application development rather than cluster management. Through Minikube, developers can deploy applications, manage nodes, and interact with their Kubernetes cluster using kubectl, the Kubernetes command-line tool, tailored to the local Minikube context.

Why Choose Minikube?

Minikube stands out as a Docker Desktop alternative for several reasons. Its ease of setup, comprehensive support for Kubernetes features, and compatibility with various operating systems make it a versatile choice for developers looking to explore Kubernetes locally. Whether you're an experienced developer seeking to test applications in a controlled environment or a newcomer eager to learn Kubernetes, Minikube offers a robust and accessible platform to accelerate your journey.

For more detailed information and guides on getting started with Minikube, visit the official Minikube documentation

Credit to this article for describing how to switch from docker desktop to minikube on mac We later found that you may need to brew install docker-credential-helper in order to make docker login work.

Rancher Desktop

If you are looking for an experience similar to Docker Desktop then Rancher Desktop might be the right choice for you. It provides a highly opinionated way to run containers and Kubernetes locally. It exposes a containerd daemon to manage images locally via nerdctl.

Rancher Desktop, developed by SUSE, is an open-source application that facilitates container management and Kubernetes on desktop environments. It's tailored for developers who require a flexible and intuitive platform for container-based development and Kubernetes experimentation.

Key Features of Rancher Desktop

Cross-Platform Support: Rancher Desktop works on macOS, Windows, and Linux, catering to a diverse range of users. It leverages a virtual machine on macOS and Linux to run containerd or Docker and Kubernetes. On Windows systems, it utilizes Windows Subsystem for Linux v2. Simple Installation Process: The installation process is straightforward across all supported platforms, with downloadable installers for macOS and Windows, and package managers for Linux. Customizable Configuration: Users can easily customize Rancher Desktop to suit their needs. This includes choosing the container engine, Kubernetes version, and configuring networking settings. User-Friendly Interface: Rancher Desktop provides an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), simplifying the management of images, containers, and application configurations. It also offers a comprehensive cluster dashboard for managing local Kubernetes resources. Container Toolchain Support: The toolchain in Rancher Desktop allows for building, pulling, pushing, and scanning images, as well as running containers. It integrates seamlessly with popular IDEs and other cloud-native ecosystem tools. Seamless Kubernetes Upgrades: Rancher Desktop offers the capability to test Kubernetes upgrades, ensuring that any potential problems are identified before they impact production environments. Practical Usage and Community Involvement Rancher Desktop is designed to be user-friendly and integrates well with common development workflows. It includes the latest versions of popular open-source CLI tools like Docker, nerdctl, kubectl, and helm, simplifying the development process. The application is open-source, hosted on GitHub, allowing for community involvement through issues and pull requests.

Getting Started with Rancher Desktop

On the initial launch, Rancher Desktop requires some setup, such as selecting the Kubernetes version and the container runtime. Its GUI offers comprehensive control over the Kubernetes cluster and Rancher installation. Users can manage their Kubernetes version, container runtime, and allocate system resources through an intuitive interface.

Why Choose Rancher Desktop?

Rancher Desktop stands out as a Docker Desktop alternative due to its open-source nature, ease of use, and comprehensive feature set. It's particularly beneficial for developers looking for a tool that combines container management and Kubernetes in a single, easy-to-use desktop application. Whether for professional development or personal experimentation, Rancher Desktop offers a robust platform for container-based application development.


Podman is a daemonless container engine for developing, managing, and running OCI Containers on your Linux System. They claim it is as simple as alias docker=podman. For the most part, it is! This is my favorite solution when I am running a single container. If you want to manage the orchestration of multiple containers, then I would go with an option that gives you a local Kubernetes cluster.

Podman Desktop emerges as a powerful tool for developers, providing a user-friendly interface for managing containers and Kubernetes from a local machine. With its recent release, Podman Desktop 1.0 offers a plethora of features that make local container development more accessible and efficient.

Why Use Podman Desktop?

Security and Efficiency: Podman, the underlying technology of Podman Desktop, enhances security by allowing containers to run in rootless mode, eliminating the need to run them as root. This feature aligns with Kubernetes' security practices and echoes its container management approach. Daemonless Architecture: Podman's design is daemonless, making it a lightweight option for container management. It can handle pods just as it handles containers, consistent with Kubernetes architectures. Simplified Container Management: The graphical interface of Podman Desktop simplifies the process of managing containers, especially for enterprise developers, providing a streamlined workflow to view and manage containers in one place.

Key Features of Podman Desktop

Cross-Platform Compatibility: Install and run Podman Desktop on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Container and Pod Management: Build, run, manage, and debug containers and pods, with compatibility for Docker Compose. Kubernetes Integration: Work natively with Kubernetes, leveraging features like generating Kubernetes YAML from pods and converting containers to Kubernetes-ready deployments. Enterprise Readiness: Support for VPN and proxies, image registry management, and air-gapped installation. Local Kubernetes with Kind: Set up a local Kubernetes environment using Kind for a lightweight and realistic testing environment. Setting Up and Using Podman Desktop Installation and Setup: Podman Desktop can be installed easily following the steps on their official website. The setup involves choosing the Kubernetes version and the container runtime, with options to configure and install via Podman, Kind, or Red Hat OpenShift Local. Managing Containers and Pods: You can build and manage containers and pods directly through the user interface, using the built-in terminal for deeper management tasks. Working with Kubernetes: Podman Desktop allows you to run and interact with Kubernetes objects using podman play kube command, facilitating testing of Kubernetes configurations locally.

Transition to Production and Kubernetes

Podman Desktop bridges the gap between local development environments and large-scale Kubernetes deployments, providing predictability and minimizing problems in deployments. It also offers structured environments for progressive skill growth in Kubernetes.

Podman Desktop is a versatile and efficient tool for local container development, offering ease of use, enhanced security, and seamless integration with Kubernetes. It's particularly beneficial for developers looking to manage containers and Kubernetes locally, with a focus on security and efficient workflows.