Ubuntu Releases

Is it just me, or is the Ubuntu development tree more stable than the releases?

I don’t know if I’ve just had bad luck, but the few Ubuntu releases have seen me abandon the stable release, almost straight away in search of some stability in the development tree. I remember Breezy being a stable release. Dapper was quite good, too - well polished. However, edgy was (as people said at the time), a little edgy, and for me it went down from there…

My first foray into Ubuntu development was from edgy to feisty. My laptop (Acer Ferrari 4005) was horribly unstable - a new, young chipset. Also, the tifm SD card reader wasn’t supported. I found feisty development to be quite stable and I pushed The Shuttleworth Lab into running it too, as a work-around for a nasty NFS bug which wasn’t going to ever be fixed.

Feisty development was fun. There was one update when mkinitrd broke, and the systems was completely unbootable (I still have a “rescue” monolithic kernel hanging around from that incident). But otherwise, it was pretty much like life on Debian testing: stable enough.

With the feisty release, prism54 broke, so my Ferrari headed for gutsy, straight away. (My secondary WiFi card is a prism54, the Ferrari wifi is broadcom)

Then I bought a new laptop, a mid-2007 Macbook - a carefully considered machine that should mostly contain well-supported hardware (Intel everywhere and Atheros wifi). Feisty was totally unstable on it, and I had to dive into Gutsy development again. Even gutsy didn’t support my wireless, which is only supported in the bleeding-edge madwifi trunk. No effort has been made to bring this driver into Ubuntu, as far as I know.

Now, I find myself wanting to get away from gutsy as fast as possible, because of a string of bugs. When a distribution is still in development, bugs get fixed, but as soon as it released there is too much red tape involved, and more to the point, the developers aren’t personally impacted by the bugs. Gutsy development has been a treat - pretty stable and reliable, and things worked.

Now almost simultaneously with the release, a pair string of bugs appeared that break my Suspend/Resume:

Am I destined to always run the development version?

People ask me if Ubuntu works. I say yes, it works almost perfectly on most machines. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking well - it does during the development cycle, but as it approaches releases, bugs creep in.

Of course this rant could be explained away in a couple of ways. I came to Ubuntu from Debian (which I still use), so I’m a CLI user, who started with the expectation that any laptop-ish support is better than nothing. My expectations have since risen to the point where everything should just work out of the box on a 6-month old machine. And a brand-new machine, should at least mostly work.

The Ubuntu release cycle coincides very badly with my academic schedule. Releases occur during term time, during the peak project hand-ins and tests month. So while I’m quite active in launchpad-crawling during development, as releases approach and the updates reach a fever-pitch, I’ve got less and less time to test them. This doesn’t lead to particularly merry releases for me.

Maybe I should follow Adrian Frith’s (rather ephemeral) lead, and switch to running Debian on my laptop. It might make a grumpy geek happier :-)

Congratulations on Ubuntu 7.10

Congratulations to the Ubuntu team, on a successful gutsy release. While gutsy is currently a little buggy for me, the millions of eyes will hopefully find all the bugs responsible… (and I must get around to filing the relevant launchpad bugs)

I run a teeny weeny little mirror (by International standards, for South Africa, it’s OK), so I’ve followed the release process, and been hanging out on #ubuntu-mirrors since last night. Preparing an Ubuntu release is quite an undertaking. In total, each mirror needs to carry around 20-30 CD images, and 4 DVD images. That’s reasonable chunk of data, and it takes a lot of coordination for everybody to get it.

I see many distros release, we normally pick them up automatically, and notice their presence the next day. But there’s definitely something special about Ubuntu releases. They have the feel of a release. The tension builds up the night before, and the #ubuntu-release-party channel fills up (when I popped in, around 500 people). Then, a few hours before the release is announced, people start noticing that it’s on the mirrors. Pointing this out on the release-party channel is not allowed (it would disturb the otherwise rowdy party of 500 users pressing F5 every 10 seconds), but pretty quickly, before the release is even announced, all the mirrors that carry Ubuntu CDs get flat-lined. If they don’t, then it’s a sign that their hardware isn’t up to scratch, and they have to find & fix their bottlenecks. On the #ubuntu-mirrors channel, you can see sysadmins from around the world showing off graphs of flat-lined, multi-gigabit links and sharing server tuning tips. If you want any experience in widely-distributing large files, run an ubuntu mirror at release-time, you’ll gain the experience fast.

I don’t know if this massive assault means Ubuntu is the most popular distribution out there. Most Ubuntu users don’t need the new ISO. They rather need click the big “upgrade” button, and hammer their local mirror to the tune of about a gigabyte. Ubuntu is based on Debian’s awesome package management system, that (if used correctly) should never require a re-install. There are Debian systems out there that were installed once, back in the 90s, and have been upgraded (both distro versions and hardware) continuously since then. Do people not know that, or do they want the thrill of booting up with the new Gutsy CD? Debian is widely considered to be the most popular distribution, and a Debian release hardly raises eyebrows (other than somebody saying “Debian released? Has hell frozen over?”, and scheduling an upgrade for some time in the next 6 months). If nothing else, this shows how different distributions’ user-base can be, while being technically very similar.

I’ve done my bit to help out the Ubuntu release:

  • I’ve been running Gutsy since it’s fork, and filed god only knows how many bugs on launchpad.
  • I’ve created my unofficial package DVDs, for people without Internet connections.
  • My mirror & toaster had the CD images in advance, and we’ll have the DVDs by tomorrow morning.
  • I’ve got a UK server with a 100Mbps link seeding Ubuntu DVD torrents. I was the sole seed for many hours, and have uploaded over 200GB, so at least I did some good ;-)

Now, as the release traffic dies down again (i.e. heavy but not quite flat-lining), I hope the sysadmins and release-party-goers sleep well, you all deserve it.

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