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23 January 2013, 16:52

Ubuntu developers debating move to rolling release model

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Ubuntu logo There could be major changes coming in how Ubuntu is released next year if the Ubuntu kernel developers have their way. In a broadcast conversation between Ubuntu Kernel Team Manager Leann Ogasawara and Canonical developer liaison Daniel Holbach, Ogasawara talked about discussions that the Ubuntu kernel developers had been having concerning switching the distribution's release cycle to a rolling methodology with Ubuntu 14.04.

The plan could see Canonical, the company behind the distribution, release a long term support (LTS) version every two years with rolling updates in between. Ogasawara and Holbach, both Canonical employees, acknowledge the virtues of the new approach to the developers, but Ogasawara is sceptical that users of the distribution would be satisfied with a concrete release every two years. The discussion was recorded for the Ubuntu On Air YouTube channel.

Leann Ogasawara and Daniel Holbach discuss Ubuntu development; the discussion of the release cycle changes starts around the 42 minute mark

Ubuntu's current release model provides for regular releases every six months with an LTS release every two years. Starting with Ubuntu 14.04, a new plan would remove the non-LTS releases and replace them with a continuous stream of updates. In the current model, software updates such as major kernel versions, releases of the server and changes to the boot system are delayed and tested until the next release. With the rolling model, this software would be continuously tested and updated whenever new upstream versions become available. Arch Linux is currently probably the most well-known desktop Linux distribution to use such a release model.

At the last Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), the developers decided to streamline the release process of the distribution in a way that eliminates most development milestones and freezes in favour of "smoke testing" and continuous QA. The rolling release model would also largely eliminate the need for Personal Package Archives (PPAs) which currently provide cutting edge package versions between major releases of the distribution.

Ogasawara and Holbach seem conscious of the fact that, on the one hand, changing to a rolling release model could make the distribution less stable by introducing more changes in quicker succession, yet, on the other hand, it would make the work of the kernel developers easier by reducing hard deadlines and making test coverage more even throughout the release cycle. From the conversation, it seems like the developers have not decided yet whether the change will take place, but Ogasawara and Holbach seem to agree that Ubuntu 14.04 (to be released in April 2014) would be the earliest opportunity to do so.


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