P is for…

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

It’s a perennial pleasure to pick pertinent and/or pithy placeholder names for Ubuntu releases. At least, I like to think of them as pertinent and/or pithy. I’ve had diverse feedback, shall we say. Nevertheless, it’s now a tradition, and it’s a pressing priority as we approach the release of Oneiric.

So, what will be our mascot for 12.04 LTS?

The letter P is pretty perfect. It’s also plentiful – my inbox has been rather full of suggestions – and we have options ranging from pacific to purposeful, via puckish and prudent. We’ll steer clear of the posh and the poncey, much as some would revel in the Portentious Palomino or the Principled Paca, those aren’t the winning names. Having spent the last six months elucidating the meaning of “oneiric” I think it might also be worth skipping the parenthetical or paralogical options too; so sadly I had to exclude the Perspicacious Panda and Porangi Packhorse (though being an LTS, that Packhorse was a near thing).

Being generally of a cheerful nature, I thought we’d avoid the Predatory Panther and Primeval Possum. Neither sounds like great company for a seven year journey, really. Same goes for the Peccable Peccary, Pawky Python and Perfidious Puku. So many bullets to dodge round here!

We’re looking for something phonetic, something plausible and something peaceful too. We’ll avoid the petulant, the pestilent, the phlegmy (phooey!), the parochial, the palliative and the psychotic. We’re aiming for mildly prophetic, and somewhat potent, without wanting to be all pedantic and particular. Phew.

So, what might work?

There are lots of lovely candidates. I have a fondness for phat. The Phat Platypus has a can-do kind of ring to it, but I don’t think it’ll fly.

I also like punchy and perky (the Perky Penguin is a nice nostalgic option) and persistent (better than permanent, peerless or penultimate) and playful and plucky and poised. Others like prescient and peaceable and pervasive (!) and pivotal. Pukka rings a nice old-world bell, but it’s possibly pejorative.

As you can see, it’s been something of a challenge to get this right.

Let’s ask the question differently – what are we trying to convey? 12.04 is an LTS. So we want it to be tough and long-lasting, reliable, solid as a rock and well defended. It’s also going to be the face of Ubuntu for large deployments for a long time, so we want it to have no loose ends, we want it to be coherent, neat.

We’ve told the story of the cloud in previous releases, and that comes to fruition in 12.04 with the first LTS that supports both the cloud guest, and cloud infrastructure, across ARM and x86 architectures. We’ve also told the story of Unity in previous releases, and that comes to fruition in a fast, lean interface that works well across clients both thick and thin. 12.04 is going to be a lot more than all that, but for the full reveal, you’ll need to wait till UDS! Nevertheless, we can take reliability, precision, and polish as a given.

Balancing all of those options, I think we have just the right mix in our designated mascot for 12.04 LTS. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Precise Pangolin.

Now, I’ve recently spent a few hours tracking a pangolin through the Kalahari. I can vouch for their precision – there wasn’t an ant hill in the valley that he missed. Their scales are a wonder of detail and quite the fashion statement. I can also vouch for their toughness; pangolin’s regularly survive encounters with lions. All in all, a perfect fit. There’s no sassier character, and no more cheerful digger, anywhere in those desert plains. If you want a plucky partner, the pangolin’s your match. Let’s pack light for a wonderful adventure together. See you in Orlando!

Linaro at work: porting, testing, and Android

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Congratulations to Team Linaro on their first full release yesterday. For those not yet in the know, Linaro is a collaborative forum with dedicated engineers making sure that Linux rocks on ARM (and potentially other architectures). Staffed by a combination of Canonical and new Linaro engineers, together with secondees from the major ARM silicon vendors, it’s solving the problems of fragmentation in Linux across that ecosystem and reducing the time to market for ARM devices.

Linaro uses the same cadence as Ubuntu and we’re able to collaborate on the selection, integration and debugging of key components like the kernel, toolchain, X.org (still ;-)), and hundreds of small-but-important libraries and tools in between. Team Linaro was @UDS and it was very cool to see the extent to which their sessions drew attendance from the wider Ubuntu community – I think there’s a growing interest in efficient computing across the Ubuntu landscape.

The Linaro team is pleased to announce the release of Linaro 10.11.
10.11 is the first public release that brings together the huge amount
of engineering effort that has occurred within Linaro over the past 6
months. In addition to officially supporting the TI OMAP3 (Beagle
Board and Beagle Board XM) and ARM Versatile Express platforms, the
images have been tested and verified on a total of 7 different platforms
including TI OMAP4 Panda Board, IGEPv2, Freescale iMX51 and ST-E U8500.

The advances that have happened in this cycle are numerous but include a
completely rebuilt archive using GCC 4.4.4 and the latest ARM optimised
tool chain, the Linux kernel version 2.6.35, support for
cross-compiling, a new hardware pack way of building images, 3D
acceleration improvements, u-boot enhancements and initial device tree
support, a new QA tracking structure, the list goes on.

Android in the house

The road ahead looks even more interesting. For the next cycle, the Linaro team is going to build an Android environment on the same kernel and toolchain that we collaborate on with Ubuntu. For folks building devices, picking a board that’s part of the Linaro process means you’ll be able to get either an Ubuntu-style or Android-style core environment up and running at Day 1, which should reduce time to market for everyone.

If the Linaro team pulls this off, it will mean that Linaro provides an intersection point for the majority of the consumer electronics x86 and ARM ecosystem, regardless of the end OS. I’m sure over time we’ll find more groups that are interested in joining the process, and I see no reason why they couldn’t be accommodated in this cadence-driven model.

More players, more diversity in services

It was also good to see folks from Montavista and Mentor at Linaro@UDS this year. Whether the Linaro kernel and toolchain plug into their own distros, or they start to offer their services around the Linaro/Ubuntu/Android BSP’s, the result is a healthier ecosystem with fewer snags and gotchas for device makers.

One group asked me explicitly if Linaro was a Canonical show, and I was glad to say it isn’t. Canonical can’t possibly do everything that embedded Linux needs done, but our competence in cadence and release management makes us good custodians of a public project, which is what we do with Ubuntu itself. Participation and collaboration are at the heart, and they benefit from being partnered with a commitment to delivery and deadlines. We can’t do everything in a single cycle, but we can provide a roadmap for things like kernel defragmentation, the device-tree work, enablement of an ever-increasing cross-section of the ARM ecosystem, and transitions between versions of GCC or Python or X or even Wayland. So Canonical makes a good anchor, but Linaro has room for lots of other service-providers. Having multiple companies participate in Linaro means that the products we’re all shipping get better, faster.

Testing

The Linaro team is also going to focus on repeatable, rigorous testing of the core platform in the next cycle. That harmonises nicely with our growing focus on quality in Ubuntu, and the need for better quality and testing in open source in general. I’m interested to see what tools and results the Linaro team can produce in the next six months. Open source *can* be bulletproof, but it can also degrade in quality if we don’t put the right processes in place upstream and downstream, so this is a very welcome initiative.

I spent a lot of time observing our community, this release. For some reason I was curious to see how our teams work together, what the dynamic is, how they work and play together, how they celebrate and sadly, also how they mourn. So I spent a fair amount more time this cycle reading lists from various Ubuntu teams, reading minutes from governance meetings for our various councils, watching IRC channels without participating, just to get a finger on the pulse.

Everywhere I looked I saw goodness: organised, motivated, cheerful and constructive conversations. Building a free OS involves an extraordinary diversity of skills, and what’s harder is that it requires merging the contributions from so many diverse disciplines and art forms. And yet, looking around the community, we seem to have found patterns for coordination and collaboration that buffer the natural gaps between all the different kinds of activities that go on.

There are definitely things we can work on. We have to stay mindful of the fact that Ubuntu is primarily a reflection of what gets done in the broader open source ecosystem, and stay committed to transmitting their work effectively, in high quality (and high definition :-)) to the Ubuntu audience. We have to remind those who are overly enthusiastic about Ubuntu that fanboyism isn’t cool, I saw a bit of “We rock you suck” that’s not appropriate. But I also saw folks stepping in and reminding those who cross the line that our values as a community are important, and the code of conduct most important of all.

So I have a very big THANK YOU for everyone. This is our most valuable achievement: making Ubuntu a great place to get stuff done that has a positive impact on literally millions of people. Getting that right isn’t technical, but it’s hard and complex work. And that’s what makes the technical goodness flow.

In particular, I’d like to thank those who have stepped into responsibilities as leaders in large and small portions of our Ubuntu universe. Whether it’s organising a weekly newsletter, coordinating the news team, arranging the venue for a release party, reviewing translations from new translators in your language, moderating IRC or reviewing hard decisions by IRC moderators, planning Kubuntu or leading MOTU’s, the people who take on the responsibility of leadership are critical to keeping Ubuntu calm, happy and productive.

But I’d also like to say that what made me most proud was seeing folks who might not think of themselves as leaders, stepping up and showing leadership skills.

There are countless occasions when something needs to be said, or something needs to get done, but where it would be easy to stay silent or let it slip, and I’m most proud of the fact that many of the acts of leadership and initiative I saw weren’t by designated or recognised leaders, they were just part of the way teams stayed cohesive and productive. I saw one stroppy individual calmly asked to reconsider their choice of words and pointed to the code of conduct by a newcomer to Ubuntu. I saw someone else step up and lead a meeting when the designated chairman couldn’t make it. That’s what makes me confident Ubuntu will continue to grow and stay sane as it grows. That’s the really daunting thing for me – as it gets bigger, it depends on a steady supply of considerate and thoughtful people who are passionate about helping do something amazing that they couldn’t do on their own. It’s already far bigger than one person or one company – so we’re entirely dependent on broader community commitment to the values that define the project.

So, to everyone who participates, thank you and please feel empowered to show leadership whenever you think we could do better as a community. That’s what will keep us cohesive and positive. That’s what will make sure the effort everyone puts into it will reach the biggest possible audience.

With that said, well done everyone on a tight but crisp post-LTS release. Maverick was a challenge, we wanted to realign the cycle slightly which compressed matters but hopefully gives us a more balanced April / October cadence going forward based on real data for real global holiday and weather patterns :-). There was an enormous amount of change embraced and also change deferred, wisely. You all did brilliantly. And so, ladies an gentlemen, I give you Mr Robbie Williamson and the Maverick Release Announcement. Grab your towel and let’s take the Meerkat out on a tour of the Galaxy ;-)

It’s time to put our heads together to envision “the perfect 10″.

This is a time of great innovation and change in the Linux world, with major new initiatives from powerful groups bringing lots of new ideas, new energy and new code. Thanks to the combined efforts of Google, Intel, IBM, Canonical, Red Hat, Oracle, Cisco, ARM, many other companies, Debian and other projects, a hundred startups and tens of thousands of professional and inspired contributors, the open source ecosystem continues to accelerate. We need to bring the best of all of that work into focus and into the archive. For millions of users, Ubuntu represents what Free Software can do out of the box for them. We owe it to everybody who works on Free Software to make that a great experience.

At the Ubuntu Developer Summit, in May in Belgium, we’ll have a new design track, and a “cloud and server” track, reflecting some major focal points in 2010. They will complement our ongoing work on community, desktop, kernel, quality assurance, foundations and mobile.

Our new theme is “Light”, and the next cycle will embrace that at many levels. We have a continued interest in netbooks, and we’ll revamp the Ubuntu Netbook Edition user interface. As computers become lighter they become more mobile, and we’ll work to keep people connected, all day, everywhere. We’ll embrace the web, aiming for the lightest, fastest web experience on any platform. The fastest boot, the fastest network connect, the fastest browser. Our goal is to ensure that UNE is far and away the best desktop OS for a netbook, both for consumers and power users.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ll be lightening the burden of enterprise deployment with our emphasis on hybrid cloud computing. Ubuntu Server is already very popular on public clouds like EC2 and Rackspace, and now that Dell supports the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud for private cloud infrastructure, it’s possible to build workloads that run equally well in your data center or on the cloud. We’ll focus on making it even easier to build those workloads and keep them up to date, and managing the configurations of tens, or tens of thousands, of Ubuntu machines running in the cloud.

It’s not all about work. We don’t just want to be connected to the internet, we want to be connected to each other. Social from the Start is our initiative to make the desktop a collaborative, social place. For the past five years, we’ve all been shifting more and more data into the web, to a series of accounts and networks elsewhere. Now it’s time to start to bring those social networks back into our everyday computing environment. Our addressbooks and contact lists need to be synchronized and shared, so that we have the latest information everywhere – from mobile phones to web accounts.

So there’s a lot to do. I hope you’ll join us in shaping that work.

Introducing the Maverick Meerkat

Our mascot for 10.10 is the Maverick Meerkat.

This is a time of change, and we’re not afraid to surprise people with a bold move if the opportunity for dramatic improvement presents itself. We want to put Ubuntu and free software on every single consumer PC that ships from a major manufacturer, the ultimate maverick move. We will deliver on time, but we have huge scope for innovation in what we deliver this cycle. Once we have released the LTS we have plenty of room to shake things up a little. Let’s hear the best ideas, gather the best talent, and be a little radical in how we approach the next two year major cycle.

Meerkats are, of course, light, fast and social – everything we want in a Perfect 10. We’re booting really fast these days, but the final push remains. Changes in the toolchain may make us even faster for every application. We’re Social from the Start, but we could get even more tightly connected, and we could bring social features into even more applications. Meerkats are family-oriented, and we aspire to having Ubuntu being the safe and efficient solution for all the family netbooks. They are also clever – meerkats teach one another new skills. And that’s what makes this such a great community.

Here’s looking at the Lynx

Lucid is shaping up beautifully, but there’s still a lot to be done to make it the LTS we all want. Thanks to everyone who is bringing their time, energy and expertise to bear on making it outstanding. And I’m looking forward to the release parties, the brainstorming at UDS, and further steps on our mission to bring free software to the world, on free terms.

Discussing free software syncronicity

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

There’s been a flurry of discussion around the idea of syncronicity in free software projects. I’d like to write up a more comprehensive view, but I’m in Prague prepping for FOSSCamp and the Ubuntu Developer Summit (can’t wait to see everyone again!) so I’ll just contribute a few thoughts and responses to some of the commentary I’ve seen so far.

Robert Knight summarized the arguments I made during a keynote at aKademy last year. I’m really delighted by the recent announcement of that the main GNOME and KDE annual developer conferences (GUADEC and aKademy) will be held at the same time, and in the same place, in 2009. This is an important step towards even better collaboration. Initiatives like FreeDesktop.org have helped tremendously in recent years, and a shared conference venue will accelerate that process of bringing the best ideas to the front across both projects. Getting all of the passionate and committed developers from both of these into the same real-space will pay dividends for both projects.

Aaron Seigo of KDE Plasma has taken a strong position against synchronized release cycles, and his three recent posts on the subject make interesting reading.

Aaron raises concerns about features being “punted” out of a release in order to stick to the release cycle. It’s absolutely true that discipline about “what gets in” is essential in order to maintain a commitment on the release front. It’s unfortunate that features don’t always happen on the schedule we hope they might. But it’s worth thinking a little bit about the importance of a specific feature versus the whole release. When a release happens on time, it builds confidence in the project, and injects a round of fresh testing, publicity, enthusiasm and of course bug reports. Code that is new gets a real kicking, and improves as a result. Free software projects are not like proprietary projects – they don’t have to ship new releases in order to get the money from new licenses and upgrades.  We can choose to slip a particular feature in order to get a new round of testing and feedback on all the code which did make it.

Some developers are passionate about specific features, others are passionate about the project as a whole. There are two specific technologies, or rather methodologies, that have hugely helped to separate those two and empower them both. They are very-good-branching VCS, and test-driven development (TDD).

We have found that the developers who are really focused on a specific feature tend to work on that feature in a branch (or collaborative set of branches), improving it “until it is done” regardless of the project release cycle. They then land the feature as a whole, usually after some review. This of course depends on having a VCS that supports branching and merging very well. You need to be able to merge from trunk continuously, so that your feature branch is always mergeable *back* to trunk. And you need to be able to merge between a number of developers all working on the same features. Of course, my oft-stated preference in VCS is Bazaar, because the developers have thought very carefully about how to support collaborative teams across platforms and projects and different workflows, but any VCS, even a centralised one, that supports good branches will do.

A comprehensive test suite, on the other hand, lets you be more open to big landings on trunk, because you know that the tests protect the functionality that people had *before* the landing. A test suite is like a force-field, protecting the integrity of code that was known to behave in a particular way yesterday, in the face of constant change. Most of the projects I’m funding now have adopted a tests-before-landings approach, where landings are trunk are handled by a robot who refuses to commit the landing unless all tests passed. You can’t argue with the robot! The beauty of this is that your trunk is “always releasable”. That’s not *entirely* true, you always want to do a little more QA before you push bits out the door, but you have the wonderful assurance that the test suite is always passing. Always.

So, branch-friendly VCS’s and test-driven development make all the difference.  Work on your feature till it’s done, then land it on the trunk during the open window. For folks who care about the release, the freeze window can be much narrower if you have great tests.

There’s a lot of discussion about the exact length of cycle that is “optimal”, with some commentary about the windows of development, freeze, QA and so on.  I think that’s a bit of a red herring, when you factor in good branching, because feature development absolutely does not stop when the trunk is frozen in preparation for a release. Those who prefer to keep committing to their branches do so, they scratch the itch that matters most to them.

I do think that cycle lengths matter, though. Aaron speculates that a 4-month cycle might be good for a web site. I agree, and we’ve converged on a 4-month planning cycle for Launchpad after a few variations on the theme. The key difference for me with a web site is that one has only one deployment point of the code in question, so you don’t have to worry as much about update and cross-version compatibility. The Launchpad team has a very cool system, where they roll out fresh code from trunk every day to a set of app servers (called “edge.launchpad.net”), and the beta testers of LP use those servers by default. Once a month, they roll out a fresh drop from tip to all the app servers, which is also when they rev the database and can introduce substantial new features. It’s tight, but it does give the project a lot of rhythm. And we plan in “sets of 4 months”, at least, we are for the next cycle. The last planning cycle was 9 months, which was just way too long.

I think the cycles-within-cycles idea is neat. Aaron talks about how 6 months is too long for quick releases, and too short to avoid having to bump features from one cycle to the next. I’ve already said that a willingness to bump a feature that is not ready is a strength and not a weakness. It would be interesting to see if the Plasma team adopted a shorter “internal” cycle, like 2 months or 3 months, and fit that into a 6 month “external” cycle, whether Aaron’s concerns were addressed.

For large projects, the fact that a year comes around every, well, year, turns out to be quite significant. You really want a cycle that divides neatly into a year, because a lot of external events are going to happen on that basis. And you want some cohesion between the parts. We used to run the Canonical sprints on a 4-month cycle (3 times a year) and the Ubuntu releases on a six month cycle (twice a year) and it was excessively complex. As soon as we all knew each other well enough not to need to meet up every 4 months, we aligned the two and it’s been much smoother ever since.

Some folks feel that distributions aren’t an important factor in choosing an upstream release cycle. And to a certain extent that’s true. There will always be a “next” release of whatever distribution you care about, and hopefully, an upstream release that misses “this” release will make it into the next one. But I think that misses the benefit of getting your work to a wider audience as fast as possible. There’s a great project management methodology called “lean”, which we’ve been working with. And it says that any time that the product of your work sits waiting for someone else to do something, is “waste”. You could have done that work later, and done something else before that generated results sooner. This is based on the amazing results seen in real-world production lines, like cars and electronics.

So while it’s certainly true that you could put out a release that misses the “wave” of distribution releases, but catches the next wave in six months time, you’re missing out on all the bug reports and patches and other opportunities for learning and improvement that would have come if you’d been on the first wave. Nothing morally wrong with that, and there may be other things that are more important for sure, but it’s worth considering, nonetheless.

Some folks have said that my interest in this is “for Canonical”, or “just for Ubuntu”. And that’s really not true. I think it’s a much more productive approach for the whole free software ecosystem, and will help us compete with the proprietary world. That’s good for everyone. And it’s not just Ubuntu that does regular 6-month releases, Fedora has adopted the same cycle, which is great because it improves the opportunities to collaborate across both distributions – we’re more likely to have the same versions of key components at any given time.

Aaron says:

Let’s assume project A depends on B, and B releases at the same time as A. That means that A is either going to be one cycle behind B in using what B provides, or will have to track B’s bleeding edge for the latter part of their cycle allowing some usage. What you really want is a staggered approach where B releases right about when A starts to work on things.

This goes completely counter to the “everyone on the same month, every 6 months” doctrine Mark preaches, of course.

I have never suggested that *everyone* should release at the same time. In fact, at Ubuntu we have converged around the idea of releasing about one month *after* our biggest predictable upstream, which happens to be GNOME. And similarly, the fact that the kernel has their own relatively predictable cycle is very useful. We don’t release Ubuntu on the same day as a kernel release that we will ship, of course, but we are able to plan and communicate meaningfully with the folks at kernel.org as to which version makes sense for us to collaborate around.

Rather than try and release the entire stack all at the same time, it makes sense to me to offset the releases based on a rough sense of dependencies.

Just to be clear, I’m not asking the projects I’ll mention below to change anything, I’m painting a picture or a scenario for the purposes of the discussion. Each project should find their own pace and scratch their itch in whatever way makes them happiest. I think there are strong itch-scratching benefits to syncronicity, however, so I’ll sketch out a scenario.

Imagine we aimed to have three waves of releases, about a month apart.

In the first wave, we’d have the kernel, toolchain, languages and system libraries, and possibly components which are performance- and security-critical. Linux, GCC, Python, Java, Apache, Tomcat… these are items which likely need the most stabilisation and testing before they ship to the innocent, and they are also pieces which need to be relatively static so that other pieces can settle down themselves. I might also include things like Gtk in there.

In the second wave, we’d have applications, the desktop environments and other utilities. AbiWord and KOffice, Gnumeric and possibly even Firefox (though some would say Firefox is a kernel and window manager so… ;-)).

And in the third wave, we’d have the distributions – Ubuntu, Fedora, Gentoo, possibly Debian, OpenSolaris. The aim would be to encourage as much collaboration and discussion around component versions in the distributions, so that they can effectively exchange information and patches and bug reports.

I’ll continue to feel strongly that there is value to projects in getting their code to a wider audience than those who will check it out of VCS-du-jour, keep it up to date and build it. And the distributions are the best way to get your code… distributed! So the fact that both Fedora and Ubuntu have converged on a rhythm bodes very well for upstreams who can take advantage of that to get wider testing, more often, earlier after their releases. I know every project will do what suits it, and I hope that projects will feel it suits them to get their code onto servers and desktops faster so that the bug fixes can come faster, too.

Stepping back from the six month view, it’s clear that there’s a slower rhythm of “enterprise”, “LTS” or “major” releases. These are the ones that people end up supporting for years and years. They are also the ones that hardware vendors want to write drivers for, more often than not. And a big problem for them is still “which version of X, kernel, libC, GCC” etc should we support? If the distributions can articulate, both to upstreams and to the rest of the ecosystem, some clear guidance in that regard then I have every reason to believe people would respond to it appropriates. I’ve talked with kernel developers who have said they would LOVE to know which kernel version is going to turn into RHEL or an Ubuntu LTS release, and ideally, they would LOVE it if those were the same versions, because it would enable them to plan their own work accordingly. So let’s do it!

Finally, in the comments on Russell Coker’s thoughtful commentary there’s a suggestion that I really like – that it’s coordinated freeze dates more than coordinated release dates that would make all the difference. Different distributions do take different views on how they integrate, test and deploy new code, and fixing the release dates suggests a reduction in the flexibility that they would have to position themselves differently. I think this is a great point. I’m primarily focused on creating a pulse in the free software community, and encouraging more collaboration. If an Ubuntu LTS release, and a Debian release, and a RHEL release, used the same major kernel version, GCC version and X version, we would be able to improve greatly ALL of their support for today’s hardware. They still wouldn’t ship on the same date, but they would all be better off than they would be going it alone. And the broader ecosystem would feel that an investment in code targeting those key versions would be justified much more easily.

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.

The Heron takes flight

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Hearty congratulations to the entire Ubuntu community on the successful launch of 8.04 LTS. This was our best release cycle ever, from the planning at UDS-Boston last year, at which we had many different teams and companies, to the beta process which attracted so much in the way of testing and patches. I think we can be justifiably proud of the quality of 8.04 LTS. From the code to the documentation, from translations to advocacy, this has been a team effort with the shared goal of delivering the very best free software experience to the very widest possible audience. May Hardy be both enduring and endearing.

I’m very conscious of the fact that Ubuntu is the pointy edge of a very large wedge – we are the conduit, but we exist only because of the extraordinary dedication and effort of thousands of other communities and projects. We all owe a great deal to the team who make Debian’s “unstable” repository possible, and of course to the upstream projects from GNOME and KDE through to the Linux kernel. We hope you will be proud of the condition in which we have carried your excellent work through to the users of Ubuntu.

So, well done everybody! I hope that friends, family, colleagues and others will have the opportunity to try it out and understand why we have all devoted so much to this project. Our work is deeply important – we are helping to bring free software to a new level of acceptance and adoption in the wider world.  Ubuntu’s success adds to the success of free software. So as much as it is fun, challenging, the opportunity of a lifetime, a profession for some and a passion for others, it’s also changing the world. I don’t exactly want to shout “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” but to me you are all Heroes.

Mark