In a meeting of the Ubuntu Technical Board last night, the technical leadership of Canonical’s Linux distribution decided to halve the support time for non-LTS releases to nine months. At the same time, the developers want to make it easier for users of the distribution to get up-to-date packages on a regular basis without the need to perform explicit upgrades of the whole distribution. Attending the meeting, Matt Zimmerman, Colin Watson and Stéphane Graber unanimously agreed on these points and also clearly voted against moving Ubuntu into a rolling release model. The changes will be implemented in the maintenance schedule starting with the release of Ubuntu 13.04 (“Raring Ringtail”) on 25 April.
The rolling release model abandons traditional scheduled releases that update all software in the distribution in favour of pushing package updates to the repositories when the individual software releases happen upstream. In this model, certain software will be held back when its dependencies need to be updated in the repositories and quality assurance usually happens by moving packages into one or several testing repositories before releasing them to all users of the distribution. The most well known distribution to currently employ such a model is Arch Linux.
The discussion to switch Ubuntu to a rolling release model had recently gained more traction at the online Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) in March; project leader Mark Shuttleworth commented on the suggestion and put forward a “strawman proposal” on his blog. The decision by the distribution’s Technical Board seems in line with Shuttleworth’s idea to accelerate the development and release cycle of Ubuntu without giving up scheduled releases entirely.
The reduction in support for non-LTS releases from 18 to nine months should give the developers more time to concentrate on testing the packages to which users will be able to upgrade between major releases. No decisions have been taken, apparently, on how the up-to-date packages will be delivered to users; the Technical Board only decided to “enable users to continuously track the development focus of Ubuntu without having to explicitly upgrade”. The implementation details are expected to be worked out in the next few weeks.