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07 March 2013, 16:04

Mark Shuttleworth on Ubuntu releases: "the sky is not falling"

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Responding to ongoing discussions and speculation about the future for Ubuntu's release cadence, Canonical Founder Mark Shuttleworth published a blog post today, detailing his thoughts on the issue. Shuttleworth, who holds the position of "Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life" of the Ubuntu project, has in the past publicly stated his opinion on cadence and the importance of regular releases for the Ubuntu project. In his latest post, Shuttleworth is of the opinion that "rolling releases are not real releases" and are therefore not the right method for Ubuntu to adopt, but that he is considering accelerating Ubuntu's release cycle.

Asking the question whether one release every six months is enough in a world he perceives as being led by web development, Shuttleworth says "can we go even faster? Can we make even MORE releases in a year? And can we automate that process to make it bulletproof for end-users?" This approach seems akin to Mozilla's redesign of the Firefox release process in 2011. Firefox has now firmly moved to releasing a new version every six weeks by staggering releases over a series of distinct channels (Nightly, Aurora, Beta, Stable) and automating large parts of the release process. The Ubuntu developers have already changed parts of their process to include more automated "smoke testing" and fewer milestone releases, and by making regular nightly releases the focus of development.

Shuttleworth also took the time to address the concerns of a number of Ubuntu contributors who had expressed their disillusionment with recent decisions by Canonical where the direction of the Ubuntu project is concerned. Stressing that "the sky is not falling in", Shuttleworth conceded that the company could not please all contributors to the Ubuntu project and that developers who did not like the new directions of the project were free to "move on". According to Shuttleworth, the project has "shifted gear to leadership rather than integration", realising that to bring about general acceptance of open source software in the market, Ubuntu would have to go from shipping the best that open source software has to offer to writing some of that software itself.

According to Elizabeth Krumbach, member of Ubuntu's Community Council (CC), the Ubuntu community itself is changing as Canonical is putting more emphasis on Ubuntu products for mobile devices and cloud computing. Krumbach advocates for the Community Council to take a more active role in communicating with Canonical about its intentions to "find solid core development tasks that community members can reliably participate in without risk and where they will find value, whatever their open source motivations are." With decisions such as Canonical's recent surprise commitment to its own Mir display server, Canonical otherwise runs the risk of brushing aside months of work that members of its community have already invested in technologies that end up not being supported in Ubuntu.

Shuttleworth is still looking for feedback from community members on the release schedule plans, so it is currently not clear what the plan will be for releases after Ubuntu 13.04; after Shuttleworth's comments, a pure rolling release model seems unlikely, though.


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