Rethinking Ubuntu's Repositories

Conrad Knauer atheoi at
Mon May 24 09:08:49 UTC 2010

I like the repository system that Ubuntu uses, but I feel that there
is a problem with it and I have a suggestion as to how to fix it.

~ The Problem ~

Ubuntu inherited the Debian system of updating software versions with
OS upgrades.  This makes the most sense when you have many many
packages that are slow in updating (e.g. due to code maturity) and/or
you are upgrading your OS relatively frequently.  An example of where
this is a bad idea is Firefox, especially on LTS releases; an excerpt
from showing the
releases still supported on the Desktop:

Package firefox

    * hardy (web): meta package for the popular mozilla web browser
      3.0.19+nobinonly-0ubuntu0.8.04.1 [security]: all
    * jaunty (web): meta package for the popular mozilla web browser
      3.0.19+nobinonly-0ubuntu0.9.04.1 [security]: all
    * karmic (web): meta package for the popular mozilla web browser
      3.5.9+nobinonly-0ubuntu0.9.10.1 [security]: all
    * lucid (web): safe and easy web browser from Mozilla
      3.6.3+nobinonly-0ubuntu4: amd64 i386

Most Firefox users have already moved to version 3.6 (see the graph on
which is where Mozilla wants you to be also BTW.  Getting a new
version of Firefox on an old version of Ubuntu can be a pain.
Supporting Firefox 3.0.x which is no longer supported by Mozilla (see seems silly.  PPAs are
unofficial.  Mozilla doesn't have a DEB repo and even if they do make
one, they might not offer packages other than for x86-32.

~ A Solution ~

Now, assuming that there are no technical reasons why Firefox 3.6
can't be built for all the currently supported versions of Ubuntu, we
can do the following for future releases; get rid of the "main" repo
as it currently stands and replace it with two repositories:

(1) a 'core' which will represent everything up to and including Gnome
(for Ubuntu; KDE for Kubuntu, etc.), so to a working GUI including
some basic apps (like Totem).  This is stuff that most users assume
will just work and don't want to fiddle with or upgrade for a while
once they're working right.  If Ubuntu is a 'software libre
supermarket', these are the canned, dried and frozen goods that have a
moderate to long shelf life.  This repo should retain the 'main'

(2) the 'desktop' applications currently in main that people really
would like to stay current.  Especially Firefox, but also OpenOffice,
GIMP, etc. (that is, the 'big' ones (usually recommended by the
ubuntu-desktop metapackage, or otherwise in main) that aren't part of
Gnome proper...).  In the supermarket analogy, these are the big showy
fresh fruit displayed at room temperature.

Perhaps a line in the sources.list could look like this:

deb maverick main

In 'main' cases like Firefox where you can have two versions that are
officially supported for a time, have a metapackage (e.g. firefox)
pointing at the newest release, but the actual versions in the names
of packages that contain data (e.g. firefox-3.5 and firefox-3.6).
This will allow users to pick if they would rather transition
automatically to the latest version or maintain the old version *while
it is still supported* (e.g. for businesses which tend to be slower in
adopting new versions... also, for people like my wife who bitterly
complain that new releases always break things... e.g. Firefox
extensions) since desktop software seems to have unpredictable release
cycles very much not in synch with Ubuntu's.

In the case of Firefox (let's say starting in 2009 after Firefox 2
reached an end of life), my solution would work like this:

- start 2009

firefox metapackage points to firefox-3.0

- June 30, 2009: Firefox 3.5 released

firefox metapackage changed shortly to point to firefox-3.5
repository contains both firefox-3.0 and firefox-3.5

- January 21, 2010: Firefox 3.6 released

firefox metapackage changed shortly to point to firefox-3.6
repository contains firefox-3.0, firefox-3.5 and firefox-3.6

- March 30, 2010: final version of 3.0 (3.0.19) released

firefox-3.0 to be removed in a timely manner (a week or two?)

- August 2010: final version of 3.5 to be released

firefox-3.5 to be removed in a timely manner (a week or two?)

- late 2010: Firefox 4.0 (hopefully ;) releases

firefox metapackage changed shortly to point to firefox-4.0
repository contains firefox-3.6 and firefox-4.0


~ Misc. Thoughts ~

Splitting out the desktop apps would mean that old LTS releases (like
Dapper, which is expired for the desktop but still supported for the
server) would not need to keep ancient browser packages around (like
Firefox 1.5)!

There are some notable 'desktop' apps in Universe (e.g. VLC, Chromium
(chromium-browser), Thunderbird and Wine spring to mind), which are
under active development and could be treated similarly...  Perhaps
"deb maverick universe" ?

Conrad Knauer

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