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Last April, Ubuntu 8.04, Codename "Hardy Heron"was released, promising Long Term support - three years on the desktop, five years on the server. At the recent GNOME Users and Developers Conference (GUADEC) in Istanbul Andreas Proschofsky had the chance to sit down with Ubuntu-founder Mark Shuttleworth to talk about the new release, but also about the Linux desktop as a whole, the strengths of Apple and possible major changes to the GNOME platform.
The following interview is also available in a german translation.
derStandard.at: A few months ago you released a new Long Term Support Release, how are going to maintain that further?
Mark Shuttleworth: We just put out the first point release. One of the changes that we made with this LTS is that we decided we would put out a point release every six months, interleaved with our normal releases. So this gives us the opportunity to add new hardware support, to fix issues that are causing users distress.
derStandard.at: Speaking about hardware support, does that mean that you are also going to do kernel upgrades in between?
Shuttleworth: On the kernel side - at least for the next two years - we are going to improve hardware support by adding to the current LTS-kernel. After that we might make it possible to switch to a newer kernel, I guess it depends on the extent to which it remains possible to backport drivers and so on.
derStandard.at: Ubuntu 8.04 had to take a fair amount of criticism cause of problems with Audio and other bugs, in hindsight: Should you have taken some extra time to fix those bugs, like you did with "Dapper Drake", the first LTS?
Shuttleworth: Actually we based that decision to go with the six month schedule on what we learned from Dapper Drake. With Dapper Drake we thought that the extra two months hadn't added a tremendous amount of extra stability.
The main criticism that I've seen for Hardy were first that we shipped Firefox 3 which was a beta. That was a very conscious decision taken in partnership with Mozilla and we were very confident that Mozilla in fact would release Firefox 3 in a reasonable amount of time. And if now - after the release of Firefox 3 - we would only have Firefox 2 on the desktop for three years, people would be equally upset. So I think it was the right decision.
Another area were we got a lot of criticism was that we made a LTS release based on a GNOME release which had a very substantial change in the virtual filesystem layer. Most of this problems are fixed with the point release though, at least all the major issues have been resolved now, we've been working very closely with GNOME to achieve that. But that was not an ideal situation.
The third you mentioned was audio and that is more challenging cause we see there is a need to get clarity on the audio stack in the Linux space. There are a lot of different permutations and combinations and we figured Hardy could go a long way to drive towards a consensus platform. So we met with other distributions and they seemed to want to make the same choices so we thought: Let's do that and send a very strong signal, that this is the audio platform that we think distros will embrace.
derStandard.at: Still it looked like you didn't pick a very good point of time for a new LTS: GNOME did big changes, Firefox was not ready at that point, you integrated PulseAudio, so wouldn't it have been better to use the next release, six months later, as LTS?
Shuttleworth: I take that criticism. Though I think that all of that decision aligned us more closely with where upstream wants to be. So my sense is, we really shipped an LTS-release which is maintainable for three years. We knew there were some regressions but we felt we could address them during the maintenance cycle.
derStandard.at: So should people wanting a really stable Ubuntu wait for the first point release, like lots of Windows users are waiting for the first Service pack of a new release?
Shuttleworth: It really shouldn't be like that, a release should be deployable. And we've no questions about whether or not that release is deployable, there are some questions whether or not very large scale infrastructures should immediately jump on the new release, which is a slight different question.
So we didn't see a sufficient level of beta-testing during the test-period and many bugs are only filed when the release has already been made. So one option that we considered was: "Let's not call 8.04 the LTS, let's call 8.04.1 the LTS", so many people would upgrade who wouldn't use a beta and you get better feedback. So that's something we might do differently with the next LTS.
derStandard.at: So what about pushing harder to align the big distributions and get upstream projects to follow that cycle?
Shuttleworth: Well you know that's a big push for me, I very much want to achieve that. In fact we said that we'll do an LTS in two years time unless we get an agreement with one of the other major distributions to coordinate. It's been very interesting discussions since I published this idea of having a meta release-cycle. Actually it's more about freezing at the same time than releasing at the same time, we really want to collaborate on a basic set of components. We already do a lot of work with Debian on that and we do well with some upstream projects, if we can achieve it across multiple distros that would be very significant.
derStandard.at: Do you see a real chance for that happening?
Shuttleworth: Yes. I think it's quite feasible that one of the other major distros is making a limited commitment to that. There are some talks on this.
There's a lot of precedence in economics that some level of coordination helps draw more customers, more users to everybody. There is a fear I think amongst the distributions that if we release at the same time as them users will be able to choose Apples to Apples. But the reality is, each of the distributions has a different set of values and that has nothing to do with which version of X.org the are using.
derStandard.at: Still both Red Hat and Novell are quite bigger companies than you, having more support staff, more developers, so from their point of view, they might have something to loose, cause they are then providing more stability for you.
Shuttleworth: Well we have a better security track record than Red Hat, we do that by focusing very hard on security, making sure the updates are available as fast as possible on Ubuntu, independent studies have generally ranked Ubuntu number one. We had a horrible security issue recently [the severe OpenSSL-bug recently discovered in Debian-based distributions, apo] but the response to that was exceptional.
So what I'm trying to say here, that the notion that Canonical wouldn't contribute anything in such a situation and it would be a one way flow is something I disagree with. Look for example at the fact that Ubuntu has usually better hardware support, if we all were on the same kernel the others could take the drivers we put in there and have hardware support that is just as good as Ubuntu.
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Shuttleworth: I think we don't yet deliver a good enough user experience. [...]
I'm really glad that there are people like Mark Shuttleworth out there, who manage to convey a real sense of excitement and love for a project, while still remaining honest and pragmatic about its shortcomings. Contrast this to an interview with Steve Jobs, and you'll see what I mean.
Both are charismatic, but while a typical Jobs speech leaves me nervous and sceptical, Shuttleworth makes me want to personally invest some effort and work to bring his vision closer to reality.
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