reflecting on first UDS session on "rolling releases"

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at
Wed Mar 6 14:19:52 UTC 2013

Hash: SHA1

Michael Hall wrote on 06/03/13 00:41:
> On 03/05/2013 06:49 PM, Allison Randal wrote:
>> There were a few things that concerned me in today's session on 
>> cadence of rolling releases:
But, the biggest was at the very end when System76 said that two
>> years is too long between releases for their customers, but that
>> they were willing to at least *try* the new rolling releases. The
>> reply was that the rolling releases weren't expected to be stable
>> enough to deliver to customers. This surprised me, since
>> "stability" is exactly the purpose of rolling releases.

This was the argument System76's Carl Richell gave against two-yearly
releases: "I don't think Windows or OS X or Chrome OS are going to
release in such a long time. And I'd also look at 11.04, for instance.
If we installed 11.04 on our computers, and used it for a week, is
that how we would want Ubuntu represented commercially? Because that
would be the result of a two-year release cycle."

I don't understand the first part of that argument. Windows 7 and 8
were, actually, both released two years after the previous version. OS
X had 18-to-24-month releases for over a decade, switching to yearly
releases only with 10.7 and 10.8. And Chrome OS has little UI or APIs
of its own, so (I assume) it has less difficulty in keeping "stable"
in any sense of the word.

The second part of the argument is that if 11.04 had been an LTS, with
the new model it would still be the latest Ubuntu release today, and
11.04 was awful. But that is unfair. 11.04 was awful precisely because
we (well, not me, but others;-) thought it was important to land Unity
as early as possible to prepare it for 12.04 LTS a year later. If we
had been doing two-yearly releases only, it would not, I hope, have
landed in that state.

>> If the "rolling releases" really aren't intended for end-users,
>> then we should just drop the fiction, say the change is from a
>> 6-month cadence to a 2-year cadence, and be done with it.

There are three parts to Rick's proposal:
1.  dropping non-LTS releases
2.  making the development version a "rolling release" stable enough
    for enthusiast use
3.  introducing monthly snapshots.

But any one of those could be done without doing the others. I have
seen no argument that any of them would depend on either of the others.

> ...
> I think different segments of the community have different ideas
> of what "stable" means:
> Distro devs & power users: "stable" == "things don't break"

Possibly more precisely: "crashes and other errors don't happen".

> App devs, OEMS, NTEU: "stable" == "things don't change"
> ...

Each of those are different, too.

App developers: "stable" == "APIs don't change".

OEMs: "stable" == "hardware compatibility doesn't break".

Non-technical end users: "stable" == "buttons don't move around".

Naturally there is some overlap in what those groups care about. And
there is some overlap in how we control those different types of
stability. But as with the word "support", the word "stable" has just
too many meanings in software discussions to be useful without a
modifier. It's not hard to be precise: use terms like "reliable",
"API-stable", "compatible", and "familiar".

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