Introduction

Recently Shuttleworth said:

Today we have a six-month release cycle, in an internet-oriented world, we need to be able to release something every day.

That’s an area we will put a lot of work into in the next five years. The small steps we are putting in to the Software Center today, they will go further and faster than people might have envisioned in the past.

It seems to mean that Ubuntu may become a rolling release, instead of its actual six month cycle. This as I said in my Arch Linux review, has good and bad points.

Rolling release and stability

I am reading in the internet talking about this new approach of Ubuntu, that it may lead Ubuntu to instability problems.

But something we need to understand about a rolling release is:

From Wikipedia:

In software development, a rolling release approach refers to a continuously developing software system, as opposed to one with versions that must be reinstalled over the previous versions. It is one of many types of software release life cycles. Rolling releases are typically seen in use by Linux distributions.

A rolling release is typically implemented using small and frequent updates. However, simply having updates does not automatically mean that a piece of software is using a rolling release cycle; to qualify as a rolling release, the philosophy of developers must be to work with one code branch, as opposed to discrete versions. Updates are typically delivered to users using a package manager and a software repository accessed through the internet.

As you can see, in no place it says that a rolling release needs to “release” a new version as soon as it is available. The instability issues you may see on Arch Linux for example is not because it is a rolling release distribution, and it is because it is a bleeding edge Linux distribution.

Is Ubuntu following his father Debian again?

A month and a half ago, Raphael Hertzog a Debian developer announced at his blog that [Debian may create a rolling release branch], actually what Debian is looking for, is to create a new branch that could be more up-to-date. And that new branch according to Lucas Nussbaum, should be a rolling release.

Doing “snapshot testing for installation, with only minimal security support, then tell users to use rolling”, we provide something quite unique in the Free Software world, with a constant flux of new upstream releases. This only adds minimal (but interesting) work for the project, with huge benefits for the “relevance” of Debian in the Free Software world, since rolling will constantly be one of the places where freshly-released software will get real users.

So, yes maybe Ubuntu is once again after a Debian’s idea.

Is this good or bad news

As I pointed above, it depends on how stable will this rolling release be.

A lot of Linux servers depends on Ubuntu, so will this rolling relase model apply to LTS versions? Will still be LTS versions as snapshots? or there will only be one rolling version of Ubuntu?

I think that if they release a new version of any package when they are sure it is stable, and will not compromise the rest of the Operating system, then it is good news.

If they are thinking in making Ubuntu a Debian based Arch Linux, well, all the user friendly of Ubuntu can be compromised, because users will have to be fixing thinks, and new Linux users will certainly not want that.

Conclusion

Understanding a rolling release Linux distribution as something that is constantly evolving, but not necesarely fast, then it is a good aproach for Ubuntu and may increase its popularity.

The Ubuntu developers will have a lot more work being sure that everything works in a daily basis, but the user may get a better experience.

One thing to consider, just like Raphael Hertzog explained in its Can Debian offer a Constantly Usable Testing distribution?, in Debian’s case, some packages can not migrate from unstable to testing because some packages it depends on are not ready

frequently some packages are not installable from unstable due to changes in other packages or transitions in libraries that have not yet been completed.

So, if rolling Ubuntu is going to release any package as soon as it becomes available, it will break things, because it may upgrade some libraries, but maybe another software may still depends on the old version of the upgrade library.

But, if rolling Ubuntu is going to release a package only when they are sure it will not break anything, then a rolling Ubuntu can be as stable as a cyclic Ubuntu. In fact it may be even more stable, because the pressure over Ubuntu to release every six months will disappear, and everything may work smoothly.

What do you think as an Ubuntu user?