Open Ballot: Are distro release cycles too short?

TuxRadar

Back by popular demand, it's our Open Ballot. This is an opportunity to air your views on the important Linux issues of the day, which we'll be chewing over in our regular podcast. We'll read out the most incisive/witty/flamebaity responses on the show, so get posting!

The question is: with many distros adopting a six-monthly release cycle, is this a good or bad thing? Should we be looking at longer development phases so that there are bigger changes between releases, and users don't have to upgrade so often? Or perhaps you think six months is not rapid enough – maybe you'd rather have three months, or abandon releases altogether and just have rolling upgrades. Let us know what you think!

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Your comments

Depends...

Like if they release good code, that doesn't break previous features and supports move hardware then i like the short release cycle...However if they haven't really added many new features to make it worth while and things start buggin out! Then they might want to take more time to make sure it all works.

Too short indeed

While the wait between distro releases feels like forever compared to the rate at which the rest of the internet moves, I think the 6-month cycle has been detrimental to the quality of Linux distributions. Six months is not a lot of time to upgrade all packages, install new technologies, and make sure the distro is robust and reliable. Due to the short time available for testing, I have seen all major distributions ship with serious bugs on my, and other people's, systems. Since the distro developers turn to the next release very shortly after a release is out the door, many of these bugs are never fixed.

I was pleased to see openSuse move to an 8-month cycle in order to improve the robustness of the distro. I would like to see all major distros do this, and use the extra time solely for testing and bugfixing, and not for new features.

6 Month is good

Because of the various "releases", there seem to be no end the new versions of distros, but I like the predictable 6-8 month cycle of Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSuSe. I use Ubuntu's last LTS (Hardy) on a home server, and I like knowing that another LTS will be released on time for its 2-year schedule.

For the "rolling" update distros, like sidux and Arch, I think a more targeted quarterly update release may be better.

I guess the frequent and unpredictable releases of TinyCore, PartedMagic, and others may be because there is no update mechanism for live CD's yet.

Medium Releases with rolling upgrades of major packages.

You are looking at a person who has tried kde4.2 with lenny.
Lenny does not support kde4.2 so I have two choices: go to a special website/repository that has kde4.2 for lenny or compile it myself, and I always find kde a big pain to compile.

I would also like to try QtCreator and mono's REPL. ( Anyone realize that mono is just a "C-ified" cross between Lisp and Smalltalk with patents thrown in? )

I would be happy with new releases once a year with some form of rolling upgrade for major packages ( typically those that most users would have trouble compiling: kfe, gnome,xfce, gcc suite, emacs, vi, eclipse, ... ) so that people who want to give new packages have a chance.

Certainly not :)

Software and hardware moves along so fast, more so in open source circles, that it is important to capture the latest and greatest for a desktop release. Six months is a fairly decent amount of time to do so, in my opinion.

And as there is choice, one doesn't have to upgrade? One of the PCs has a rather specialised role in the house and doesn't really need a lot of stuff. Beyond security patches, there's no need to upgrade it and it runs along just fine.

8 months?

hmm, having read spiffytech's post, I have to say 8 months would be pretty good too. I guess that's the reason I like Mint - it takes Ubuntu and adds another month of bugfixing to make a great release.

Yes, for mature distro's anyway

I'm tempted to say yes, primarily because of Ubuntu's recent underwhelming releases. However, when using newer, Netbook optimised OSs like Easy Peasy and Jolicloud, I very much appreciate regular releases. This is because these distros are finding their feet and still have a long roadmap ahead of them. Now that Ubuntu has "settled", I think it would be beneficial to switch to a year long release cycle.

Either that or put the Gnome 3.0 shell in.

No

Clearly the answer to this question is no, because updates are what brings more awesome to my machine. Honestly, I wouldn't care if there was even a daily dose of awesome.

Who in their right mind would complain about something that gets materially better every time the sun comes up?

Yes

Yes we need six-monthly release cycle and silly release names, so many silly names available and so few releases, damn.

No

I am happy with the ubuntu LTS release being on a longer cycle to maintain stability, but having the choice to go for a new release every 6 months keeps my machine current

not all hardware ==

for my laptop or Internet desktop 6 month releases are great I'm usually trying stuff out on those often enough that 6 month distro install or upgrade is fine. My production servers get a stable supported distro installed and other than regular patches don't need to be upgraded / touched. My development work station is a yearly upgrade. So long as distro's are not dropping patching / support after 6 months then who cares. If your adventurous then upgrade / patch and try out the newest .001 increment in version releases for your favorite software.
When I ran a debian work station I ran unstable so I could have newer software releases but I would never put unstable on my servers.

Depends

Well it depends on what one is planning to use it for. A server distro should obviously have a long cycle. Personally i find that for home use a six-month cycle works perfectly.

Alse, one thing that annoys me is Arch users running around the internet trying to get geek creds and extolling the virtues of the rolling release model. Some of them are even trying to make newbies use Arch.

Bjørnar Berge

Yes and No...

Quick release cycles (or even rolling release cycles) are great for the bleeding edge desktop user (like myself), but stability obsessed server admins (like myself) are more concerned with long term support for stable and well tested mature software.

Ubuntu have a good model... 6 month standard releases with every so often one being a Long Term Support release. My desktop updates with every update and release Ubuntu pushes my way, my servers are all ubuntu-LTS or Debian and I only update what _needs_ updating.

And, although this could never really work with Linux, what would be nice is to separate 'Application' software from the OS in the release, allowing a longer release cycle for OS (thus making sure everything is stable and mature before release) with the 'Applications' software, potentially, a rolling upgrade as new 'stable' versions are released.

Well...

6 months is nice for upgrades, but it seems like every time I upgrade to the new version, something breaks (like sound) and there is no official fix, just community help (which is not bad (its good that there is a community I can turn to when I have an issue), but the bug is never truly fixed).

I would honestly rather have rolling upgrades so that packages and bugs could be troubleshooted more than they have in the past. That way some upgrades could be released sooner, while other later (versus every 6 months). Of course, during this time there would be an update manager to update the software and the kernel should it arise.

No, not too short

Ideally, I do very much like the idea of a rolling release, but it is not very practical in most cases and there are occasionally significant changes to a distribution that are just not suitable to throw out there at some arbirary point as a "rolling upgrade".

Also, having regular releases with defined objectives helps to drive and organise specific efforts focussed on one particular area, which is necessary at times to make real progress on something. And of course the publicity during the runup to a release does a lot of good for promotion and community spirit.

However, there are times when 6 months is just too long to wait for new code or other changes. Ubuntu mitigates this issue quite well already with having Launchpad PPAs, but still it frustrates me sometimes that versions of package dependencies often get bumped needlessly in the repos for the next release, so that you (usually) can't just pick out just one or two updated packages from the next version repos, somebody has to actually go to the trouble of backporting the newer packages, and who knows if and when that might be done for any given package.

Requiring that people update their whole operating system and all of it's applications at once is not the best idea in my opinion. It would help get more people testing updated packages if they could do so perhaps only for applications, without having to worry about not being able to boot one day.

Perhaps the best thing would be some kind of rolling release for application packages, with the more fundamental system and core desktop stuff held back on a periodic release cycle?

Otherwise, for the most part, I think Ubuntu has got things about right. A longer cycle would just mean a longer "stabilisation" period after the release as a consequence of having more changes, because nobody is going to extend the release cycle by say 2 months and then allocate all that extra time to more testing and bug fixing.

I think 6 months is sufficient to make at least "progress" in any area, yet it's not quite long enough to make the scale of changes that would pretty much guarantee an upgrade nightmare and broken release. I have never seen any evidence that a longer release cycle leads to a more stable release...it has to be up to individuals to decide what level of stability they need and to delay upgrading or even skip certain release types accordingly. Nor have I noticed any correleation between the speed of progress and the release cycle. Early releases add some disruption and overhead to longer-term goals but then they also help to identify issues earlier and I think the two sides tend to balance each other out most of the time.

Just my 2p for what it's worth.

It depends upon the backing

If there is a company behind the distro (Like Ubuntu/Canonical) then a 6 month release is about right. They SHOULD have the backing and manpower to release on a 6 month cycle. If there is just a community behind the distro, then you have a lot of factors that can hold up the distro releases. The Long and short of it, if you have the manpower and make the promise fulfill the promise with quality. Dont just release a distro for the sake of releasing it. Just like with any other product, the masses want quality over quantity. They are also impatient. Give me good stuff now. If it isnt good, dont give it. That is probably the opinion of a lot of people out there.

It's good, if...

I think that a 6 month release cycle is good, if the distro handles this well. It would be stupid if every 6 months you had to backup all your stuff, download the iso, burn it to disk and install the OS all over again. The best way is to have PackageKit or whatever notify you of this change and ask if you want to change to the new repositories. Like what Ubuntu does at the moment.

They're too short

I think that having upgrades available every day is not needed to have so many new versions. I don't have time to get acustomed to those versions. Once every year is enough.

What kind of idiot question

What kind of idiot question is this? Of course its too short. Causes confusion amongst users and puts pressure on developers. Think I will write to The Guardian...........

6 month release cycle is now part of our Linux culture! So no!

I think the 6 month release cycle is appropriate for the open source development model. Every 6 month we have a new Gnome so it is nice to have a new Ubuntu! It is just like a more complete update.

I think this is a mistake to compare Linux distribution release model with Windows or Mac OS. They have service packs and updates, we have new releases every 6 month that in addition to bugfixes contains new software. Don't expect it to be completely different OS from the previous one and try to enjoy small changes!

At end I want to stress that short release cycle has become part of our Linux Culture. I expect to see a new Ubuntu every 6 month!

Yes

6 month release cycles (for full releases) are too short. In any given 6 months there is not enough change to really warrant a full release. I'd much prefer to see 12-18 months between releases, with rolling updates of software during that interim. Unless you're rolling out a brand-new look and/or functionality, I don't need a full new release. Keep me updated to current versions via updates. Actually, I don't see why new "releases" are even necessary. Everything can come down via the update channels. A "release" is really just a marketing thing -- like "New! and Improved!", one of my favorite oxymorons

Too Short

I think having a release every six months is too short. Nothing really changes between releases and it introduces a lot of new bugs. Maybe some years ago it was a good idea but Linux is quite a mature OS now. Every six months all they achieve is a slightly quicker boot up time. Better they tried to make a bigger changes and get it out of the door every year.

Not too short!

Absolutely not too short. Some decent apps get updated pretty often and, on Ubuntu, I'm often left waiting months before I get a hold of it because I don't use backports and only install software from the official repos. I trust the devs and the Ubuntu team not to break anything for official releases.

Opinions are split it seems

I kinda like the notion of a rolling release.
Let people get off the train when they want.

"it's all about freedom"

9 months of course!!

That's really obvious no? It should be 9 months, like humans! Ubuntu says "Linux for human beings" so why have they chosen 6 months??
Seriously, a year would be too long, 6 months is too tight, 9 months seems ideal. It would be human!

Seb.

Regarding Ubuntu

Regarding Ubuntu specifically,

I think as Ubuntu begins to mature we will see Canonical put more emphasis on its LTS releases as the de facto release most people should opt for, hiding away the regular 6 month releases from 'average users'. Upgrading every 2 years rather than every 6 months is a much more sane proposition for the average computer user who just wants something that works.

I'm sure they will always keep the 6 month releases in between the LTS in order to keep the hardcore users energised and focused on the latest and greatest, but Grandma and the typical Facebook user will do just fine with an upgrade once every 2 years.

I think Canonical will eventually rename/rebrand the LTS and none LTS releases to reflect this change. The LTS releases will become the regular vanilla Ubuntu and the other releases will get some special name denoting they are for enthusiasts.

NO

it is epic that things are updated so quickly, it gives you a real sense of progress and everyone likes new stuff!

well...

It all depends on whst you use your computer for and what you expect out of it.
On servers I run SLES 10 with a 2.6.16.60 kernel and that is really old but can handle all new hardware since Novell has been patching it really hard.
I like the idea of rolling updates but that lacks the wow factor that something new is included in the new version, and there can be a stability issue as well.
Going for a 6 or fixed month schedule can be tempting, the problem here is that there always is a starting period for the new release where not do much gets done and there is also a period in the end where nothig new can be added since they need to iron out all the bugs. That leaves at best 3 month of real progress for a 6 month release cycle.
I'm for a little longer release cycle 8 or 9 month so they can get more stuff in to the release. For all the rest of us we can always update from factory to have the latest and gratest with bugs and all, we need something to break our system in the lack of viruses.

I use PCLinuxOS, Mandriva

I use PCLinuxOS, Mandriva and Kubuntu so I really care less and less and bout distros and more about KDE4. The differences between the distros are minimal at best and I modify desktop to my specs anyways.

I appreciate rolling distros but I dont think everyone would for many reasons (no sense of 'voila' accomplishment) but 6months is really too quick. Many people complain about not having time to get comfortable with the changes taht its time to upgrade. (and even though they dont HAVE to upgrade, geeks always feel the grass is greener somewhere else).

Ive just upgraded to KDE4.3 this week and I really dont feel the need to change again for some fall distro release when Ive only been using this version for about 4 months.

Besides, Id like them all on concentrating on making release cycles easier to transition to.

Going from 5.04 to 5.10 of a distro should involve a one click approach.
Distros arent the only culpabl of this: Joe User should be able to go from Firefox3.0 to 3.5 in one click yet Mozilla treat them as separate entities even though its an upgrade.

Make the transitions from one version to another (distros and desktops) much easier and smoother and it wont even matter. It should be just another option in your update settings (and work well).

6 months = Perfect

We want rapid technology updates on our distro to get the latest and best features, maximizing user experience and fix bugs.

I think we should give up

I think we should give up distros. (just a joke lol) I think the 6 month cycle is not bad but the only problem I see with it is that most of the major desktops and some major apps also do 6 month releases and so when the distro comes out they do not have the most up to date apps/desktop versions. I think a 7 month release cycle is better because it allows for integration of the newer apps/desktops that get released normally after or with the distro. it would also give them time to test the apps and also do a bit more overall testing which can only lead to a more stable distro.

Long release cycles with better upgrade and update features

I think the release cycle for distros should be closer to 2 years. Before you start throwing things at me, hear me out.

The real problem is with all the incompatible packages. Every distro wants to put things in different places and because of the nature of dependencies you wind up with a product that feels glued together.

IMO all packages should include in their archive every single bit and byte required to make it run, short of development platforms like Java of course. If you used a library, include it, because if you rely on the distro to provide it in their repos, they may abandon it for a newer library version in six months and if the new library is incompatible with the old one, the package is broken.

Until we fix the package mess, there is no good solution for distro release cycles. The answer now is to release often with poor options for upgrade, and variable update options.

I should be able to download a Firefox update without going to the command line or waiting for a very late upgrade in my repo. Linux suffers from lots of usability issues due to it's very poor package management culture.

Way short

Shouldn't we be talking about what we use our computers for in this matter. I used to love the short release cycle so I could play with the new technologies early in the deployment cycle, but I also run a business and need a rock solid box that I can keep my books and customer database etc. etc. on. I really don't want to be upgrading (does upgrading truly exist for linux distros?) every 6 months or every year for that matter. Yeah, I can create my Home folder as a separate partition but if you have ever tried saving your work this way and then reattaching it to a fresh install well, nothing is as simple as it first appears. Perhaps Canonical has the right idea with it's LTS releases. It appears, to me, bizarre that some people think Linux is going to take over the desktop for your average user with release cycles falling over the heels of the previous one. No one but us geeks (I still keep a test machine to try out new distros and the latest releases of my favourites) want to work that hard at maintaining our desktops. Somewhere between Debian and Ubuntu release cycles may be right.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

I'd like to see a rolling release, with a focus on keeping the system stable, not necessarily bleeding-edge.

Having the system altered so (sometimes) drastically every 6 months, with changes to locations of files and programs, can make life hard for even the most avid linux fan.

Rolling release would mean I don't have to do a clean install to get the most out of my system when a new version of my favourite OS comes out (eg; getting left behind in kernel versions).

Benevolent Dictators take note!

Depends on the OS

A lot can happen in 6 months, but sometimes the upgrades can be so trivial that they go unnoticed that a lot of casual users (eg my wife) wander what the fuss is about. I personally like the 6 month gap.

However Debian only updates every couple of years, I think they take the stability issue a bit far. Gentoo and Arch just have rolling updates, this is a great idea for some, but for those with older computers it may well keep them away from those distros.

DICK NIPPLES

It really depends on what the End User wants, if a user is fine with updating their software then they should have the option to be able to do it themselves not relying on their distro manafacturer to do so for them.

Example... when Ubuntu releases 9.10 all the software will be upgraded to the latest release, this means that the user is forced to go through the trouble of removing that software if they prefer an earlier version.

Personally I like the 6 month releases however I can see how other would not.

NO

There is a hell of a lot of work that goes into a six-month release, I'd hate to see the current distros lose stability by shrinking their release cycles.

No

We have many different distros to suit the varying needs of many different people. As we have seen with distros like Ubuntu, a lot can be achieved over 6 months and sometimes better quality work is achieved when fewer features are being worked on.

@ Dick Nipples: 9.10 is a preparatory release for 10.04 which is the next LTS release. If you don't like it don't upgrade. You'll still get updates for the next year or so.

Hmm

It depends on my hardware. Is that a self-centered answer? Absolutely.

But the minute a stable release of Ubuntu LTS, Debian or CentOS supports all of my hardware out of the box, I'm saying good bye to the endless upgrade hamster wheel. Ubuntu 8.04 didn't work with my Wi-fi, but Ubuntu 8.10 did. So close.

But an OS is supposed to get installed and then get out of your way. Having to upgrade every six months (which isn't bringing much innovation to the table, just bugs) is a pain. I have better things to do.

The problem with these stable releases is that they lump together desktop applications in with the OS. Upgrade Firefox and OpenOffice.org to the newest version in Ubuntu LTS, PLEASE. Repositories should be smart enough at this point that we can separate these end-user applications from the rest of the libsexy's out there.

To sum up my answer: As Linux is maturing, the speed of releasing is too fast for anything to stabilize.

What if I want to give Grandma an OS? I'm not giving her anything that will be unsupported in two years.

Varies

Like others have said, I think it depends on the target audience. For example I run Debian on my stable home computer, but UNR on my EEE netbook. This way I get regular updates for my EEE, which quite frankly needs them.

Release early, release often

Is supposed to be the Open Source development mantra and it probably works for individual applications.
It also works well for distributions that are undergoing rapid development, as we have seen with the rush of Netbook optimised OSes.
Other than that one might be more inclined to favour a little more stability and long-term use.
The question does not ask about the period of support, but this is relevant, if you aren't going to offer extended support, then the distro will only be supported until the next release.
I approve of openSUSE going for an 8 month release cycle, if it really does offer a better tested product at the end of the period, but their shortening of the supported period to 18 months is a major disappointment to me.

On the other hand, the openSUSE build service does provide back-ported packages of newer software for older (supported) systems, I quite like that. It certainly takes off the psychological pressure to get the latest distro.

I quite like Ubuntu's offering of a LTS release every two years, that's about right and filling in the gap with six-monthly releases for those simply must have the latest version seems to work well, in spite of all the moaning when something is broken.

Of course, one doesn't have to upgrade every six months as long as the previous version is still supported, I simply wouldn't use a distribution that forced me to upgrade every six months.

Are rolling upgrades always possible? Doesn't breakage sometimes occur when something is changed radically? Otherwise I suppose it would be a good idea, but then the new packages will still need testing, so they won't be suitable to release as quickly as one might think.

Short after what?

The thing is, releasing every 6 months is a relative term in itself. If Fedora (to name one; other culprits spring to mind) ships the latest and fscks everything up, the 6 months aren't really the issue, are they? They will then be testing and improving, and after 6 months they will put out a new shipment of bug-infested innovation.
If, however, a January release featured some software, new versions were relased in February and those versions - now stabilized - were included in July, a 6-month cycle would suggest fairly recent, but not too buggy software.
If Debian took a year and a half to release and still included software from last week, one might as well run Arch.

Why can't Fedora or other OS be supported one year at a time?

I seriously want to get to know Fedora 12 for a YEAR before upgrading to the next release. Windoze 7 will be around for 3 to 5 years before a new release. It doesn't make sense for a linux distro to NOT be supported for at least a year before the next release! UGH!

linuxglobe at twitter.com / Hudson, MA, USA

6 months good

I like the 6 month upgrade cycle, it puts me in the position of choosing to keep a stable release on a machine which I don't want to keep upgrading and for my general PC I can keep on upgrading. Typically when I get to 6 months I want to start playing with new stuff so a new release stops me from playing around too much with my existing setup.

And I love those silly names

Maybe it's our expectations...

The problem comes that with 6 month cycles, people expect revolution every time because that's what a distro release meant to mean.

Now it's more evolution so people seem disappointed when not much changes - but six months is simultaneously too long and not long enough!

Best of both worlds

I like the mix of 6 month updates along with long term support (LTS) releases that Ubuntu puts out. I have stayed with 8.04 LTS version because I have not seen a compelling reason change, but I like to have the option of jumping onto a 6 month release if something really cool comes out. Prior to 8.04 I updated every 6 months because I wanted the improvements.

As far as quality is concerned, I am not sure a longer cycle will help. Either you are committed to quality or you are not. If not, a longer cycle will be used pick up latest versions of software at the last minute. It might even make quality worse because the longer the release interval, the greater the pressure to get the latest application in now rather than wait another 8, 9, or 12 months for the next opportunity.

I like it short and sweet!

I prefer the nice and predictable 6 month schedule. It's easy to remember and I know when to expect the next update. Also, Linux stuff changes too frequently to be stuck with buggy older software in the repositories. And just to jab ubu: I hate that ubu distros are released at the end of the month... 9.10 should be released 10-01, not 10-30.

Rolling upgrades? Roll your own!

I've always preferred to upgrade by pointing my package manager at the latest repository (or the latest DVD) and grabbing the new kernel, security-related stuff and whatever else seems worth upgrading. It works in Mandriva anyway.

Since it's easy to find a DVD with the latest release, but not so easy to find one with a copy of the "updates" repository, frequent releases must be good. The exception is when distros use it as an excuse not to fix bugs: "Does it happen in the latest version? What do you mean you don't know? It's been out for nearly 10 minutes! [bug closed]"

There's just one problem with 'official' rolling release schedules: How do you decide when to put it on your cover DVD?

Rolling Upgrades, Thank You

Once users are past the point of breathless enthusiasm a 6 month release cycle increasingly appears to be pointlessly disruptive. Count me for rolling upgrades, a three year support cycle (anybody for four?) and an annual Live CD (or DVD) that lets new-comers aboard gracefully.

In other words, after three or four years clean out your accumulated detritus and do a fresh installation with the latest Wunderbar 3.3.33.a.2b or whatever. Then sit tight and get something done with all the time saved.

I Like it Rolling Rolling Rolling!

...Rolling Rolling Rolling!

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