Ubuntu will now track Mozilla updates
The Ubuntu developers are now tracking Mozilla's rapid release cycle, releasing the updated version 8.0 of Mozilla's Firefox and Thunderbird. Previously, Ubuntu distributions would have stuck with the major version they were released with, say 3.0, and only updated to the minor versions as they arrived, 3.0.1, 3.0.2 and so on. But Mozilla's switch to a rapid release schedule for Firefox and Thunderbird, which sees a new major version every six weeks, has placed Canonical and other distribution makers with a decision: whether to stick with their old policy and support a version of a browser that would no longer be supported upstream within months, or follow the rapid-release cycle, even if it means updating major versions.
With Ubuntu 11.10, Canonical has now made the decision to track the Mozilla major version updates; a couple of weeks after the release of Firefox 8.0, Ubuntu released its Firefox 8.0 to the Ubuntu main repositories. This meant that users would automatically receive the updated version. Users could, of course, have manually updated to the new version, but the Ubuntu change means all Ubuntu 11.10 users are now upgraded to Firefox 8.0. The Firefox update came around two weeks after the release, but the developers are planning to reduce the delay between a Mozilla release and the corresponding Ubuntu update to a couple of days. This week, Canonical continued that process with an update of the Thunderbird mail client to the recently released 8.0 version from 9 November.
Canonical plans to continue this process for Ubuntu 11.10 and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Long Term Support). The move to rapid release cycle updates, combined with Ubuntu 12.04's five-year support life could make for an interesting mix of old and new in a few years' time though. Canonical is considering allowing users to opt to use Mozilla's proposed Enterprise Support Release (ESR) of Firefox, a version of Firefox which would be supported for forty-two weeks, rather than six. So far though, no Firefox ESR has been released and even when released, like Mozilla, any Canonical ESR option would not be publicised to general users to avoid confusion.
To allow for more effective testing of Firefox before future updates, the Mozilla Team has a Launchpad PPA, Firefox-next, which carries unsupported test versions of Firefox from the Mozilla beta channel. The repository has instructions on how to install the beta versions of Firefox to allow users to help check the next planned release of Firefox and report bugs.