Canonical to halve Ubuntu support lifetime

March 20, 2013 // 10:35 a.m.

Tags: #canonical #free-software #linux #open-source #operating-system #ubuntu #ubuntu-linux

Canonical, the company behind the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, is planning a change to how it supports its operating system that will see each major release updated for just nine months after release.

Founded as a fork of the Debian distribution following dissatisfaction with the length of time between releases, Ubuntu has stuck to a rigid six-month release cycle since it was founded. When released, each six-monthly version - given a release number of the year plus the month of release, along with an alliterative animal-themed codename - was guaranteed to receive software updates for eighteen months, or three full version releases. The exception was the Long Term Support (LTS) releases, designed for corporate and enterprise use, which enjoyed a full three years of guaranteed updates.

The company is now shifting away from its traditional release and support schedules, however, with the news that all standard releases will now receive only nine months of updates - taking each release into the support window of the next Ubuntu version plus an additional three months. For those who recommended Ubuntu based on Canonical's well-publicised support timescales, it's a blow - but one that disguises a potential benefit for the software's users.

The shortening of support cycles for non-LTS releases comes with the news that the company will look to transition to a hybrid system that combines its regular six-monthly major releases with a 'rolling release schedule that will see users automatically migrated to the next major release when it becomes available. While this isn't a true rolling release system, in which the very latest updates are always made available to each user and there is no true 'version' of the operating system, it's considerably more flexible than Canonical's previous approach.

According to Phoronix, which 'attended' the virtual meeting of Canonical's Ubuntu Technical Board yesterday via IRC, the details of how the hybrid release system will work have yet to be ironed out, but the new support schedule will be in place from Ubuntu 13.04 'Raring Ringtail' onwards. Those who are running a previous release, including the most recent Ubuntu 12.10 'Quantal Quetzal,' will retain their existing guarantee of eighteen months of updates.

For those in the open source and free software communities who have taken a dislike to Canonical, the decision to shorten support lifetimes and all-but 'force' users to upgrade to each version of the operating system as soon as it is released regardless of potentially unwelcome changes - like the introduction of the divisive Unity as the default user interface in Ubuntu 11.04 - will do little to reassure them that Ubuntu is a distribution to recommend. For its existing users, however, the change is unlikely to cause too much heartache.
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