Rethinking Ubuntu's Repositories

Evan eapache at
Mon May 24 13:01:34 UTC 2010

On Mon, May 24, 2010 at 5:08 AM, Conrad Knauer <atheoi at> wrote:
> 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'
> designation.
> (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
> etc.
> ~ 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" ?
> Sincerely,
> Conrad Knauer

This idea has been raised before in various forms.


I suggest you read through to the end of the thread, since a lot of
good points are raised on both sides.

I'm not against the idea, but there are still some obstacles to overcome.


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