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The Nillabyte Perspective: Technology

Is Ubuntu Shooting Itself In The Foot With Its Release Schedule?

Ubuntu is one of the newer competitors in the operating system, but in the past few years they've gained a whole lot of ground. Parent company Canonical has focused on making Ubuntu a solid solution for all users, from servers to netbooks, and they've done a pretty impressive job of it. One of the unique features of Ubuntu is a rock-solid six month release cycle, that's so predictable you can practically put in on your calendar years in advance. This is a stark contrast to some software companies like Microsoft, where you might wait nearly a decade for the next version of a terrible operating system to come out (cough . . . Vista . . . cough).

But as I've followed the Ubuntu releases for the past few years, dutifully reinstalling each six months, I've begun to wonder if it really makes sense. Each new version brings a meager set of new features and bug fixes to the plate, and sometimes there is really nothing noticeable. Sometimes it's honestly a little frustrating talking to my friends (mostly Windows users) about the latest version of Ubuntu when they ask what's new. While many sites have articles touting each new feature of 9.10, there really isn't much there. UbuntuOne support? It's cool, but for those that really care, DropBox has been available (and compatible with Linux) for a while.

Now I can definitely see some improvements comparing the recently released Karmic Koala (9.10) with the Fiesty Fawn (7.04) that I started out with. And I definitely feel like the software is moving in a good direction. But unless there really are some solid new features or fixes in 10.04, I'm probably not going to upgrade. I belong to a group sometimes ridiculed in Linux circles - I'm a user. That's right, I don't write software, and I don't spend my evenings and weekends trying to tweak every possible setting on my computer. I just want it to work. And sometimes, the constant reinstalling gets a little old, especially when there are no significant gains from doing so.

I suppose in some ways, it's not even fair to compare the release cycle of Ubuntu to Windows or Mac though. Microsoft and Apple both make money from their software, so they have to have something to sell you in order to release a new system. There has to be big strides made, or users will eye the shiny new one, shrug, and keep on using what they've got. Microsoft learned this the hard way with Vista, and may end up fighting the same battle with Windows 7. But Canonical doesn't really care if you upgrade right now or not. The software is there, it's free for you to use, and they put out the newest version of it every six months for your convenience.

I still can't help but wonder though, how much time and energy are wasted with each new release? How much time does it take to put the whole build together, and get it out to all the right places? What about all the new logos and names? Updating web pages? Would some of that effort be better used in other places? I for one would be happy to wait a whole year for a new system if it meant there would be more features and fixes.

What do you think - does a six month release cycle really make sense? Do you upgrade with every new release?


  1. Lars's Avatar
    I think it should be a 12 or 18 month cycle.
  2. Delan Azabani's Avatar
    I agree. A longer release cycle will also help fix more release-time bugs and prevent "rushed coding".
  3. IUJHJSDHE's Avatar
    That's why there's the LTS releases. They are pretty much the equivalent of a Mac or Windows release, and you can see major differences between LTSs.

    I think the problem with Karmic was Canonical trying to add / work on too many original in-house-written features, squeezing them in so they can focus on stability with the LTS release.
  4. Indian-Art's Avatar
    I have been using Ubuntu from 8.04. I enjoy each and every release of Ubuntu. I find it keeps getting better.

    I have dual-booted my PC & laptop with Windows & Ubuntu.

    I have not run into trouble with upgrades (like some people have).

    That could be because I am careful while upgrading or ..........
    .....just plain lucky!!!

    I hope Ubuntu continues with its 6 month cycles because I eagerly look forward to the cutting / bleeding edge technology which I enjoy using!
  5. jvan's Avatar
    LTS releases about each 2-3 years, and they are more stable than regular releases.
  6. Shawn Patrick's Avatar
    Good article but incorrect on the part that Canonical doesn't make money off linux. They make a good deal of money and Mark Shuttleworth is becoming a million dollars a day richer as we type. Shuttleworth was even able to afford flying into space recently. How do they make their money? Off corporate support for it. Novell is another company that is profiting off the work of the open source community. Now I personally have no problem with this.

    But back to what is really important, you are correct that the release schedule is far too short. While ubuntu users are complaining that 3rd party companies aren't support them with drivers, you can't blame 3rd party vendors having to rewrite drivers and code every six months either.

    What they should be doing if they really want linux to take off. Emphasize the LTS releases (18 months) and consider all the other releases to be what they really are, beta releases. I would name the next LTS release, Ubuntu 10.0. Then the six month one as Ubuntu 10.1 but AGAIN state it is not meant for the general public.

    LTS releases have a history of support and being solid. I run a lot of Ubuntu 8.04 for that reason, it simply works and works well. 9.10 on the other hand has been a nightmare.
  7. zebrat's Avatar
    (1) online upgrade -- just press some buttons, and wait, and restart

    (2) ubuntu 9.10 is a must-upgrade, for all ubuntu users. the most impressive is not the officially announced features, but MUCH FASTER! (introduced by new gnome - the desktop system)
  8. Slap Bet's Avatar
    Quote From zebrat
    (1) online upgrade -- just press some buttons, and wait, and restart

    (2) ubuntu 9.10 is a must-upgrade, for all ubuntu users. the most impressive is not the officially announced features, but MUCH FASTER! (introduced by new gnome - the desktop system)
    Yeah, well too bad for lots of us who have had nothing but **** luck with 9.10. It's terrible thus far. You must work for Canonical. 9.10 ain't all roses.

    Back on point. Ubuntu releases should only come every 18 months. It will allow for the code to be smoothed out and the system being finely tuned. Plus, I think it would allow for greater innovation since 18 months would allow them to work on bigger more challenging features.
  9. Chila's Avatar
    I totally agree. The system is constantly updating it's packages through the update center, and that's like a constant "upgrade". The new "releases" only contain a few more things + all the updates/fixes. It's convenient from the installation point of view, so you do not have to download all the 6 months updates, but that could be arranged in a different way (like releasing updated installation images every x time). Rushing things has never been a good friend of software development, and strict version releases ultimately leads to that. And this time it has been detrimental to Ubuntu, since the Karmic came out with several bugs that could have been fixed before releasing it. That's why I'm downgrading to Jaunty, right now (i'm browsing and installing Jaunty), because Karmic boots 1 out of 4 times and when it does, something crashes that makes me have to restart it again (with again 1/4 prob. of booting).
    "Installation Complete", ok, let's boot Jaunty.
  10. Black Wind's Avatar
    Who cares? Ubuntu is just a geek thing anyway that only appeals to .0000000001% of computer users. It may be good enough for them, but serious computer users will just shell out money for a real operating system, otherwise they won't get the functionality, the many programs, and the tons of games that you can get with, say, Windows 7.
  11. huno's Avatar
    To spend a thousands of dollars for software including Adobe creative suite, microsoft office and couple of games and then get infected by the virus that will erase all of your files, is not that serious.
  12. Louis's Avatar
    "serious computer users will just shell out money for a real operating system, otherwise they won't get the functionality, the many programs, and the tons of games that you can get with, say, Windows 7."

    Classic, you said "serious computer users", and then made a point about games.

    In my business, serious computer users actually use their computers to do real work, and don't want to have to worry about viruses, and junky software components.
    Last Edited November 8th, 2009 at 05:26 PM by Kyle Buckley (Language)
  13. Brett's Avatar
    I use Debian, and I find its slower release schedule makes for a much more stable OS. Ubuntu has major problems because it keeps putting new unstable stuff on top of debian base. Debian has the same ease of use as Ubuntu, without the constant upgrades.
  14. 1roxtar's Avatar
    Go ahead and eat your Debian Cornhole. Ubuntu is doing what many Linux nerds are too afraid of doing...making Linux easy for the masses. If you like the other distros so much, stick with them. Nevertheless, let Ubuntu do it's own thing (which I support) and watch it run wind sprints ahead of you all!!!!!!
  15. tico's Avatar
    If you don't like to upgrade every 6 months then don't. Just wait for the next LTS version (even better the 10.04.1 release) and enjoy the features that have been tested by all the users in between the last LTS and the new one. Enjoy the ride!
  16. bruno's Avatar
    I like the 6-month releases and find it important to fix bugs, add new improvements and bring new users. The problem IMO is that Canonical have underestimated the work needed for new releases and that's why we have seen recurring issues and some many problems.

    As for a longer cycle, agree with some folks here: that's why we have LTS.
  17. LinuxCanuck's Avatar
    This is perennial topic asked by people who just don't get it. If they want something else then the field is wide open. There are over 300 distributions. Use one that conforms to your ideas.

    Ubuntu One may look like a Dropbox clone for now. Canonical is looking at allowing users to back up settings and looking towards cloud computing. The same thing can be said for the Software Centre. It looks like a replacement for Add and Remove, but it is meant to be a lot more down the development road.

    People continually underestimate Ubuntu which is why it has grown so rapidly. There is a corporation behind it with a strategy. They are always several moves ahead of the users. Our reactions need to be tempered with looking where something might be headed rather than looking at things superficially.

    Things are done incrementally and in small steps which suits the corporate strategy. Users do not have to go along this path. They can opt for the two year LTS cycle.

    Shuttleworth wants to change Linux, but people don't see it because it is done in small steps. Canonical does not want to scare off its base. As long as there are viable alternatives Canonical will act responsibly. Ubuntu is not competing with Debian contrary to what many people believe. Its Linux competition is Fedora and openSuSE, both of which have corporate backing and have aggressive development cycles. To slow down their cycle is not in their best interest.
  18. rugbywarrior89's Avatar
    I haven't been a member of the Linux community very long. I started with 9.04 and I learn more about this OS everyday. One thing that seems to be a recurring theme is that it is an operating system that is open to the community for change and program writing. It seems that the community fixes a few problems, let out the new operating system, then let the community fix a few more problems and let out a new operating system and so on and so forth... It makes sense to me that they should let out the new OS so everyone can take their own stab at it. If you're not into program writing (which most of us aren't), then at least there are some bugs fixed that weren't in the previous release. I think it's great! Vive le Linux Revolution!!!


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