The Art of Release

Monday, May 12th, 2008

An update on the long term plans for Ubuntu release management. 8.04 LTS represented a very significant step forward in our release management thinking. To the best of my knowledge there has never been an “enterprise platform” release delivered exactly on schedule, to the day, in any proprietary or Linux OS. Not only did it prove that we could execute an LTS release in the standard 6-month timeframe, but it showed that we could commit to such an LTS the cycle beforehand. Kudos to the technical decision-makers, the release managers, and the whole community who aligned our efforts with that goal.

As a result, we can commit that the next LTS release of Ubuntu will be 10.04 LTS, in April 2010.

This represents one of the most extraordinary, and to me somewhat unexpected, benefits of free software to those who deploy it. Most people would assume that precise release management would depend on having total control of all the moving parts – and hence only be possible in a proprietary setting. Microsoft writes (almost) every line of code in Windows, so you would think they would be able to set, and hit, a precise target date for delivery. But in fact the reverse is true –  free software distributions or OSV’s can provide much better assurances with regard to delivery dates than proprietary OSV’s, because we can focus on the critical role of component selection, integration, testing, patch management and distribution rather than the pieces which upstream projects are better able to handle – core component feature development. This is in my mind a very compelling reason for distributions to focus on distribution – that’s the one thing they do which the upstreams don’t, so they need to invest heavily in that in order to serve as the most efficient conduit of upstream’s work.

We also committed, for the first time, to a regular set of point releases for 8.04 LTS. These will start three months after the LTS, and be repeated every six months until the next LTS is out. These point releases will include support for new hardware as well as rolling up all the updates published in that series to date. So a fresh install of a point release will work on newer hardware and will also not require a big download of additional updates.

Gerry Carr at Canonical put together this diagram which describes the release management plan very nicely:

Ubuntu Release Cycle

The Ubuntu team does an amazing job of ensuring that one can update from release to release, and from LTS release to LTS release directly, too. I’m very proud to be part of this community! With the addition of some capability to support newer hardware in LTS releases, I think we are doing our part in the free software community – helping to deliver the excellent work of thousands of other teams, from kernel.org to GNOME and KDE, safely to a huge audience.

There’s one thing that could convince me to change the date of the next Ubuntu LTS: the opportunity to collaborate with the other, large distributions on a coordinated major / minor release cycle. If two out of three of Red Hat (RHEL), Novell (SLES) and Debian are willing to agree in advance on a date to the nearest month, and thereby on a combination of kernel, compiler toolchain, GNOME/KDE, X and OpenOffice versions, and agree to a six-month and 2-3 year long term cycle, then I would happily realign Ubuntu’s short and long-term cycles around that. I think the benefits of this sort of alignment to users, upstreams and the distributions themselves would be enormous. I’ll write more about this idea in due course, for now let’s just call it my dream of true free software syncronicity.

166 Responses to “The Art of Release”

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