Friday, July 10, 2009

Mythbuntu and Mint Developers Pan Ubuntu for Strict Time-Release Policy

Image by via Flickr
In an article on Techradar which looked at the upcoming Karmic Koala release of Ubuntu, Clement Lefebvre, the developer of Linux Mint, a popular Ubuntu derivative, and Mario Limonciello, the maintainer of the Ubuntu-sanctioned Mythbuntu media center distribution both took aim at what they saw as the chief weakness of Ubuntu.

"Of course," compained Lefebvre, "[focusing on consolidation instead of cutting-edge features] wouldn't make sense for Ubuntu unless we became an upstream component of their distribution. I'm really happy with what Ubuntu is doing, and if I were to change anything… it would be the commitment to a release schedule and the return of a 'release when ready' policy to guarantee a stronger level of quality against regressions."

"I would prefer that the release cycles were not strictly six months," said Limonciello. "Over the last few releases there have been a variety of bugs that weren't deemed to 'hold up' the release and could just be fixed in a Stable Release Update. I'm of the opinion if you have a fix for the bug that you know works, you shouldn't put off the fix just to meet a deadline for releasing a CD. It's better to include the fix sooner and give a better experience to the user out of the box."

Ubuntu began having serious release issues in 8.04, when the developers replaced the venerable Enlightenment Sound Daemon (ESD) with the newly minted Pulse Audio for the sound system. Flash and Pulse Audio didn't play well together, causing Firefox to hang or crash often. A commonly used wireless chipset (RaLink's RT series), which had worked for Ubuntu users for several releases, shipped without a working driver in 8.04. Many users complained that Hardy (8.04) was a step back from Gutsy (7.10).

The release of 8.10 came with more wireless bugs and a new Xorg (7.4) which on NVidia and ATI chips for a time. NetworkManager also had its share of problems.

Jaunty (9.04) is now famous for the which worked for years before the version rev. There was also a problem with the Brasero CD writer, which was exacerbated by its integration with the Nautilus file manager and the removal of the tried-and-true Nautilus CD Writer. Pulse Audio .

Linux Mint is a popular Ubuntu derivative which includes everything the user needs out of the box, including Flash and restricted codecs. It also uses a more Windows-like interface and has several user-friendly software additions like a "popular software" installer and easy file sharing.

Mythbuntu is a popular and venerable media center and DVR solution which installs easily and has graphical interfaces for just about everything you need to set up.



I first tried Linux via Ubuntu. I was pretty intimidated by a F/OSS OS, didn't understand the difference between Gnome and KDE, rpm and deb, or the countless other debates where I had to suddenly pick a side. Ubuntu's commitment to 6 month releases was the only thing I really understood without trying 4 or 5 distros off the bat, so I ran with it. I can't emphasize enough how much that eased my mind, this idea that how ever good or bad this stuff is, it will be improved in 6 months.

It was probably naive to value that commitment so highly, but I think Ubuntu is partly trying to attract other people who are just as naive as I once was. These people might one day triage bugs and submit modest code suggestions to projects, as I have since done.

It's clear the 6 month commitments come at a price, but I think the benefits are subtle and easily overlooked.

It'd be nice to see some real attempt at a rigorous cost/benefit here. We need a GNU market research and consulting group!


One thing for sure about the six-month release cycle -- it keeps Ubuntu in the news. The betas are reviewed, the release is reviewed for two months, and then the plans for the next version are put out to the press, causing another bump in the news as people debate how much better the next version will be. There are maybe six weeks in the whole year where Ubuntu is not a major tech talk point. That's pretty powerful.

I think that the failures of the six-months release are compounded by Ubuntu's propensity to tear out and replace large parts of the system every release, whether those parts are X, the audio system, or the init system.

Every software release in the universe has regression of some sort. In some cases, though, the bug and fix for a major problem are known, but Ubuntu commits to HARD release times with countdown timers, and I think THAT'S the issue that developers like Clement and Mario are addressing: delaying the release a week or two would help many of the issues. Many, but not all.


Here's the techradar article mentioned:


Thanks. I swore I put that link in there. Shame, eh?


"Ubuntu's propensity to tear out and replace large parts of the system every release"

Definitely. Showstoppers are not necessarily due to the timing of the release cycle so much as its ambitiousness. Might be better to try more modest release goals before scrapping the 6 month cycles.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the six month release cycle is a big problem only the way they are implementing it.

LTS Release - unfortunately they try to cram in new features and "tear out and replace large parts of the system". The LTS Release should be a bugfix only release. The goal should be stability above all.

release right after LTS - This is the time to replace major parts of the system. xorg, network manager, and pulse audio are all examples of what this release should be about. Firefox and OpenOffice are not Major parts of the system. They are major software packages that do not cause instability. Also a good time to introduce new features. This release should be known for breaking things and instability.

two releases from LTS - continued introduction of new features. but a larger focus on bugs.

three releases from LTS - a few new features but most time should be focused on major bug fixes and focusing on stability.

LTS - nothing but bug fixes. Stability is the goal...

They have a good thing going but every release has huge issues. I have stopped updating right away when new releases come out. I have actually dumped Ubuntu all together because it has turned into an absolute unstable distribution. It would be nice to see a real "stable" version of Ubuntu.


"They have a good thing going but every release has huge issues."
I started to make a joke about (the old advice for MS products) after 8.04 was released.

Brent said...

My first experiences with Ubuntu were fairly disastrous, missing codecs, flakey sound and graphics, and just when I got everything fixed - an update would come along and break everything again. Then I found Mint - It has all of the good stuff about Ubuntu and none of the bad stuff. This is the distro I give to my friends.


As a distro Ubuntu makes a lot fewer changes that are likely to break stuff than Fedora or similar and it makes them later. Sure there are always some small issues on release but it continues to get better and better as a result of this overhaul. If you depend on absolute stability then stick to the LTSs.

Post a Comment

Other I' Been to Ubuntu Stories