Debian’s new time-based freezes

Overall, having time-based freezes is a good idea. But the chosen cycle is problematic, especially if one considers Ubuntu’s LTS release cycles. The problem is that if Debian releases a new version at approximately the same time as Ubuntu, there will not be much synchronization and Ubuntu will have newer program versions.

Consider the releases of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS (April 2008) and Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 (February 2009). Whereas Ubuntu 8.04 provides GNOME 2.22 including a new Nautilus, Debian provides GNOME 2.22 with nautilus 2.20. Ubuntu’s release made at about the same time (Ubuntu 9.04) already included GNOME 2.26.

The reason for this are the different development processes. Whereas a Debian release is based on stable upstream versions, the development of Ubuntu releases happens using newest pre-releases, causing Ubuntu releases to be one generation ahead in most technologies, although released at the same time.

Another difference is the way of freezing and the duration of the total freeze. Ubuntu has a freeze process split into multiple stages. The freeze which is comparable to Debian’s freeze is the feature freeze, which usually happens two months before the release. Debian’s freeze happens 6 month before the release, just about the time when Ubuntu has just defined the features to be included in the next release.

Synchronizing the release cycles of Debian and Ubuntu basically means that Ubuntu will always provide the newer features, better hardware support, etc. Ubuntu is the winner of this decision. It will have less bugs because it inherits from a frozen Debian branch and it can include newer versions where required because it freezes 3 months later.

To synchronize the package versions shipped in Debian and Ubuntu you have to make your release schedules asynchronous, in a way that the Debian release freezes after the Ubuntu release. This basically means that I expect Debian 6.0 (2010/H1) to be more similar to Ubuntu 9.10 than to Ubuntu 10.04. I would have preferred to freeze Squeeze in December 2010 and release in April 2011, and Ubuntu LTS to be re-scheduled for October 2010.

Now let’s say you are a Debian and Ubuntu user (and you prefer none of them) and you want to setup a new system in 2010/H2 (so the systems have a half year to stabilize). This system should be supported for a long time. You have two options: Debian 6.0 and Ubuntu 10.04. Which will you choose? Most people would probably consider Ubuntu now, because it provides better support for their hardware and has the newer features. A (partial) solution to this problem would be to make backports an official part of Debian starting with Debian 6.0.

Furthermore, there is the question of security support. If we want to provide the ability to upgrade directly from Debian 5.0 to Debian 7.0, we will have to support Lenny until 2012/H2 (to give users enough time to upgrade, when we release 7.0 in 2012/H1). This means that we would have to support in 2012: Debian 5.0, 6.0 and 7.0. And another side effect is that Debian 6.0 would have a 3 year security support, just like Ubuntu 10.04.

All in all, the decision means that Debian and Ubuntu LTS releases will occur at about the same time, will be supported for about the same time and that Ubuntu has the newer packages and less bugs to fix.


8 thoughts on “Debian’s new time-based freezes

  1. you point a great problem. That said, ubuntu have to be compared with Sid i think. LTS is something different and should respect Debian rules / dates.

  2. Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu) has said in the interview few days ago that Ubuntu and Debian developers are having conversations and according to the results next Ubuntu LTS can be 10.04 (April) or 10.10 (October) it just depends on the result of agreement of mutual freeze. So both distributions would work on the same code (freeze of the same time), but would not be released at the same time. This idea is exactly one year old, read Marks post from July 2008:

    1. You can’t freeze Debian and Ubuntu at the same time and still use the same code. This just won’t work, because Ubuntu has different goals than Debian and always wants to be more up-to-date.

      The problem can only be solved by freezing Ubuntu some months before Debian, so both get about the same software versions.

  3. I think you miss a big point: Ubuntu pays a price for its release cycle: the distribution always feels like a beta. Ubuntu LTS releases are not really much better than any other releases because they don’t seem to be functionally maintained (the Nautilus bugs that caused Lenny to release with 2.20 were never fixed in the Ubuntu LTS that used 2.22, because gnome didn’t fix them and Ubuntu didn’t step in. Debian got that call 100% correct and Ubuntu lost huge credibility in my eyes). LTS seems more about long term security support than providing a high quality release. If Ubuntu wants to change this, it’s up to them/him. Debian is really helping with this decision, because Debian’s unpredictable release timing made life hard for Ubuntu’s release model. I wonder what new distributions will arise as a consequence. That may be the most interesting consequence, if Ubuntu does not take advantage of this opportunity to move beyond toy releases.

    1. You are right Tim .
      That why i’ve a good feeling with Sidux: like ubuntu, it has the latest developments but used the “Debian spirit” for more stability.
      Lots of bugs in Ubuntu are never fixed, release over release, that’s not a serious approach.

    2. My aunt runs Ubuntu 8.04(.2) and my parents run Debian 5.0. I heard no complaints from any of them yet. But I experienced extreme slowness of nautilus when I ran 8.04.

      I personally like Debian’s release model more than Ubuntu’s, as you only get security releases and from time to time bug fixes in form of point releases. This means less stuff to update for me.

      But I still like both distributions. Each has its own place (except for Ubuntu Server which is kind of useless in my opinion, as I can just run Debian).

      If the goal of Ubuntu LTS moves from up2date more to Debian stable + some newer parts + artwork, this would be good for Ubuntu. But I don’t think it would be good for Debian.

  4. The other item that worried me from this announcement (related to your comment about support) is that Ubuntu LTS releases are supported for 5 years on servers, which means Debian shoots itself in the foot on that area too.

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