Rolling Release Rumours Keep On Rolling

Canonical are opening a debate on whether or not Ubuntu should move away from its current release pattern in favour of a ‘rolling release’ model.

In a post to the Ubuntu Developer Mailing list Ubuntu engineering lead Rick Spencer argues that such a change is needed of Ubuntu is to gain the ‘velocity and agility’ it needs to reach its goal of device convergence.

But before you, or anyone you know, panics/punches the air in jubilation it’s important to note that no firm decision has yet been made.

The proposal, including its pro’s, con’s, and everything in between, will be discussed with the wider Ubuntu Community at next weeks UDS.

Rolling Release rumours have dogged Ubuntu development for several years, with the most recent being semi-squashed by Jono Bacon in January of this year.

‘Run their course’

“I think the value of the interim releases has run its course…”

So what’s the beef1 with non-LTS releases?

In his ‘strawman proposal2‘ Spencer argues that the 3 Ubuntu releases pushed out in the gaps between LTS versions have ‘run their course’.

To back this up he says:

  • Businesses and support customers stick with LTS releases
  • LTS releases are recommended to new users as they’re more stable and better supported
  • A limits of 6-month release cycle often causes features to be rushed or delayed
  • Daily Quality has made the daily development builds dependable
  • Interim releases require on-going support and investment

To underline the last point remember that each non-LTS release of Ubuntu is supported for around 18 months.

So, right now, along with the LTS versions, some 4 different versions of Ubuntu are being actively supported at the same time. If we count Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS then it’s 5!

Continued support requires investment in money, time, infrastructure, and effort. As appreciated as it is, is it ultimately worth it when the daily builds of Ubuntu are now so stable?

Spencer thinks not.

No Ubuntu 13.04 in April

But it’s not just a matter of lessening the load of developers; the goal of ‘convergence’ is the main draw for the change, as Rick explains:

“…we are in the process of inventing what is essentially a next generation Ubuntu. There will be lots of new code written and code integrated from new sources to accomplish this. The 13.04 Desktop would not have any of this new code, and therefore will be “old” before it is even released.”

Going on to add:

“We can make a Free and Open Source OS that uses the same code base to power phones, tablets, desktops, workstations, servers, clouds, and services in clouds!

But to do this …will take copious focus and effort on our part. We can’t afford to let our focus and effort to get siphoned off into releasing and supporting software that is not taking us closer to that future.”

In an effort to strike while the iron’s hot, Spencer suggest that interim releases of Ubuntu should ‘stop… starting now’.

Would this mean April’s Ubuntu 13.04 would be the ‘rolling release’ point? Or would Ubuntu 13.04 be delayed until next year, when it would be released as a LTS?

Who knows! But these will be points discussed next week, for sure.

What It Means For You

If Ubuntu did switch to a rolling release model you’re probably wondering how it would affect you?

If you’re an LTS user it wouldn’t; LTS releases are to remain a fixture of the Ubuntu release cycle.

But if you hop from non-LTS-release-to-non-LTS-release a rolling release would be of immense benefit. Not only would you have access to the latest release of software, but you’d also get new, improved and stable features over time, too.

No more waiting 6 months for the latest GIMP, or the latest release of Unity; it’ll all come down the update pipes.

Still To Be Decided

Rolling Releases are a hot and divisive topic. With this in mind Rick Spencer’s post has been designed to generate discussion around the subject of rolling releases within the Ubuntu Community for discussion at next weeks Ubuntu Developer Summit.

In the mean time you can read Spencer’s full post can be found on the Ubuntu Developer Mailing List.

Rolling Releases – something you’d like to see Ubuntu move to?

1 May contain horsemeat
2 Definition of strawman proposal 
News rollingrelease uds