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Ubuntu 10.10 – the release cycle in review…

Ubuntu 10.10 developer and Community Leader Dave Walker reflects on Maverick Meerkat's release cycle. Celebrating with a 10/10/10 release date meant a compressed development period. Many said it couldn't (or wouldn't) be done. They were wrong…

This article is due to appear in issue 93 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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As is increasingly common, with better quality assurance (QA) / testing than ever before – and wider adoption of the milestone and daily snapshots pre-releases – we are able to identify more bugs, earlier. It used to be the case that many of the rare or edge bugs were only discovered post-release, and were then either fixed as an SRU (Stable Release Update) or if minor, left until the next release to implement the fix. This generally means that with each subsequent release there is increased stability.

When I first started with Ubuntu, it was a common thought that until it’s released it should not run unless you are a developer. This image has completely changed, particularly for the desktop flavour. It’s now common for those who don’t carry a particular expertise to run the development version early. However, they are aware that they are getting the latest ‘crack’ without the promise of stability – and that the next update could cause the machine to fail
to boot. However, without this leap of faith by individuals,
the stability of the end result would no doubt suffer.

The ISOs’ test coverage is constantly getting richer, with specific test cases to look for potential regressions in particular areas. There is constant development in the area of automated testing; the latest addition has been using Hudson (the continual integration tool) to have  web-based ‘hands-off’ automated testing, and viewing of the results.

Another observation that many have made this cycle, is the true meaning of an archive ‘Freeze’. We’ve seen many examples of new features introduced after Feature Freeze (mostly with authorisation of the Release Team). One key example is the new specifically developed Ubuntu font being used in the default theme on 30 September 2010 (which is the date the Release Candidate was scheduled to be announced). This, while widely appreciated by most, does raise the question of how strict the Freeze milestones are (and need to be). I believe Rick Spencer, the Ubuntu engineering manager, wants to have a session dedicated to this at UDS.

With regard to the Release Candidate preparation, I was quite surprised how calmly the process went. There didn’t seem to be any urgency to eleventh-hour re-creation (re‑spins) of disk images (ISOs). The milestone seemed to be handled very calmly, which can be largely attributed to the Release Team’s professionalism and the contacts they work with in the various teams.

Every cycle, software that is included in a default install is reviewed. This allows Ubuntu to constantly question if they are providing the best software from open source, and include/change defaults if not. There are other concerns, such as the health of the upstream project and the usage of disk space (the CD image isn’t getting any larger at the moment).

The Desktop flavour has changed the default photo managing application. The new one is called Shotwell (written in the language Vala), compared to the previous one of F-Spot (programming language, Mono). For me, this means a less feature-rich experience, but a more reliable and faster user experience. It is worth noting that F-Spot is still supported, and those that upgrade will not lose F-Spot.

The Ubuntu Netbook Edition has had great attention this cycle – with the adoption of Unity (the Clutter-based netbook interface). I think that this addition makes the Netbook Edition the cleanest yet, particularly as some serious thought has gone into the screen layout. It makes better use of the horizontal space, as the vertical screen is normally quite limited. The default email application is Evolution, which now better supports small screens. However, I wonder how many people use a ‘desktop’-based email client, compared with using web browsers for email.

In the Server sphere, the private cloud stack of UEC (Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud) based on Eucalyptus has been updated to version 2.0 with a brand refresh – but on tests so far, it’s offering the most reliable private cloud yet. This has been a hard challenge during the cycle, but the end result seems to make it worthwhile.
Ubuntu Server images, mainly used on Amazon Web Services (AWS/EC2) now have the feature of being able to upgrade the kernel. Previously they were tied to the kernel version shipped, when the image was bundled. This is something that seemed to affect all the distributions on AWS/EC2, as the kernel ‘lives’ outside the instance. Thankfully, it now makes it possible to use standard APT tools to upgrade and reboot. This means that it is easier (and safer) to keep instances more persistent.

Something which is new to Ubuntu is the concept of being able to buy games and applications from within the suggested package manager (Ubuntu Software Centre). It will be interesting to see how many, and from what areas, these paid-for applications will derive. I believe we are expecting some ‘non-free’ video codecs to be available, depending on the country of residence. For further notes on the changes, including some gritty detail, you can find the Technical Overview here.

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