It’s been two weeks since Rick Spencer made the case for a rolling release approach in Ubuntu. Having a rolling release is one of the very top suggestions from the hardcore Ubuntu user community, and after years of it being mooted by all and sundry I thought it deserved the deep consideration that Rick and his team, who represent most of Canonical’s direct contributions to Ubuntu, brought to the analysis.
It’s obviously not helpful to have mass hysteria break out when ideas like this get floated, so I would like to thank everyone who calmly provided feedback on the proposal, and blow a fat raspberry at those of you who felt obliged to mount soapboxes and opine on The End Of the World As We Know It. Sensible people the world over will appreciate the dilemma at being asked to take user feedback seriously, and being accused of unilateralism when exploring options.
Change is warranted. If we want to deliver on our mission, we have to be willing to stare controversy in the face and do the right thing anyway, recognising that we won’t know if it’s the right thing until much later, and for most of the intervening time, friends and enemies alike will go various degrees of apoplectic. Our best defense against getting it wrong is to have a strong meritocracy, which I think we do. That means letting people like Rick, who have earned their leadership roles, explore controversial territory.
So, where do we stand? And where do I stand? What’s the next step?
What makes this conversation hard is the sheer scale of the Ubuntu ecosystem, all of which is profoundly affected by any change. Here are the things I think we need to optimise for, and the observations that I think we should structure our thinking around:
Releases are good discipline, cadence is valuable.
Releases, even interim releases, create value for parts of the Ubuntu ecosystem that are important. They allow us to get more widespread feedback on decisions made in that cycle – what’s working, what’s not working. Interestingly, in the analysis that played into Rick’s proposal, we found that very few institutional users depend on extended support of the interim releases. Those who care about support tend to use the LTS releases and LTS point releases.
Release management detracts from development time, and should be balanced against the amount of use that release gets.
While reaffirming our interest in releases, I think we established that the amount of time spend developing in a cycle versus spent doing release management is currently out of whack with the amount to which people actually DEPEND on that release management, for interim releases, on the desktop. On the server, we found that the interim releases are quite heavily used in the cloud, less so on physical metal.
Daily quality has raised the game dramatically for tip / trunk / devel users, and addresses the Rolling Release need.
There’s widespread support for the statement that ‘developers can and should use the daily development release’. The processes that have been put in place make it much more reliable for folks who want to track development, either as a contributor to Ubuntu or as someone who ships software for Ubuntu and wants to know what’s happening on the latest release, to use Ubuntu throughout the development cycle. For those of you not aware, uploads to the edge get published in a special ‘pocket’, and only moved into the edge if they don’t generate any alarms from people who are on the VERY BLEEDING EDGE. So you can use Raring (without that bleeding edge pocket) and get daily updates that are almost certain not to bork you. There is a real community that WANTS a rolling release, and the daily development release of Ubuntu satisfies this need already.
LTS point releases are a great new enhancement to the LTS concept.
On a regular basis, the LTS release gets a point update which includes access to a new, current kernel (supporting new hardware without regressing the old hardware on the previous kernel, which remains supported), new OpenStack (via the Cloud Archive), and various other elements. I think we could build on this to enhance the LTS with newer and better versions of the core UX (Unity) as long as we don’t push those users through a major transition in the process (Unity/Qt, anybody? ).
Separating platform from apps would enhance agility.
Currently, we make one giant release of the platform and ALL APPS. That means an enormous amount of interdependence, and an enormous bottleneck that depends largely on a single community to line everything up at once. If we narrowed the scope of the platform, we would raise the quality of the platform. Quite possibly, we could place the responsibility for apps on the developers that love them, giving users access to newer versions of those apps if (and only if) the development communities behind them want to do that and believe it is supportable.
That’s what I observed from all the discussion that ensued from Rick’s proposal.
Here’s a new straw man proposal. Note – this is still just a proposal. I will ask the TB to respond to this one, since it incorporates both elements of Rick’s team’s analysis and feedback from wider circles.
Updated Ubuntu Release Management proposal
In order to go even faster as the leading free software platform, meet the needs of both our external users and internal communities (Unity, Canonical, Kubuntu, Xubuntu and many many others) and prepare for a wider role in personal computing, Ubuntu is considering:
1. Strengthening the LTS point releases.
Our end-user community will be better served by higher-quality LTS releases that get additional, contained update during the first two years of their existence (i.e. as long as they are the latest LTS). Updates to the LTS in each point release might include:
- addition of newer kernels as options (not invalidating prior kernels). The original LTS kernel would be supported for the full duration of the LTS, interim kernels would be supported until the subsequent LTS, and the next LTS kernel would be supported on the prior LTS for teh length of that LTS too. The kernel team should provide a more detailed updated straw man proposal to the TB along these lines.
- optional newer versions of major, fast-moving and important platform components. For example, during the life of 12.04 LTS we are providing as optional updates newer versions of OpenStack, so it is always possible to deploy 12.04 LTS with the latest OpenStack in a supported configuration, and upgrade to newer versions of OpenStack in existing clouds without upgrading from 12.04 LTS itself.
- required upgrades to newer versions of platform components, as long as those do not break key APIs. For example, we know that the 13.04 Unity is much faster than the 12.04 Unity, and it might be possible and valuable to backport it as an update.
2. Reducing the amount of release management, and duration of support, for interim releases.
Very few end users depend on 18 months support for interim releases. The proposal is to reduce the support for interim releases to 7 months, thereby providing constant support for those who stay on the latest interim release, or any supported LTS releases. Our working assumption is that the latest interim release is used by folks who will be involved, even if tangentially, in the making of Ubuntu, and LTS releases will be used by those who purely consume it.
3. Designating the tip of development as a Rolling Release.
Building on current Daily Quality practices, to make the tip of the development release generally useful as a ‘daily driver’ for developers who want to track Ubuntu progress without taking significant risk with their primary laptop. We would ask the TB to evaluate whether it’s worth changing our archive naming and management conventions so that one release, say ‘raring’, stays the tip release so that there is no need to ‘upgrade’ when releases are actually published. We would encourage PPA developers to target the edge release, so that we don’t fragment the ‘extras’ collection across interim releases.
That is all.