Today I was working on some yet_to_be_announced project for a KnownCompany.
I was also updating my flash player basing on the latest releases from Adobe, and realized that this company, and many others will have to exploit packaging model of modern distributions in order to achieve what they want.
See. Modern, user-oriented linux distros like OpenSuSe, Fedora, Ubuntu, are preparing set of packages for the release, and then “half-freezing”. When I use Ubuntu 7.04, I use a set of software that was ready by April 2007. There are two exceptions – security patches, and community contributed backports of the newer packages , but for the latter, I have to manually select that I want to get them.
It means that being a company, that wants to upgrade users browser, mail client, game, or office package, I should claim that it’s a security release. It’s not an issue right now, since linux is not popular enough to be on most product managers radar, and the releases happen pretty often (half a year in case of Ubuntu), but as Linux will become more popular, I’m more than sure that it will start to happen. All companies I was working for would like their latest versions to be deployed for all users soon after the release. Not half year later. Also, what about users who will not upgrade?
Look at the browsers. Browser X ver 3.5 has been released on Sep 2010. The Ubuntu (by the time used by 35% of end users on Earth!) release 10.10 uploads it and uses in their release. Users are happy, confetti is everywhere and We Are The Champions can be heard in the background. Win-Win.
Then, the vendor of Browser X prepares release 4.0, and they’re ready on Apr 2011. Unfortunately the release cycle of Ubuntu says that Ubuntu is already freezed and will not use ver 4.0 in Ubuntu 11.04. So this release is delivered to the users with Ubuntu 11.10, 6 months after original release!
At this point, many can say “Yea, Mark is calling for synchronizing releases”, but that’s not a solution. What if 11.04 is so great, that people don’t want to migrate to 11.10? If it’s a LTS and majority will want to stick to it for a loong time? (see XP-Vista migration rates) or if it’s simply not good for some reason, and journalists advice to stick to 11.04 and wait for 12.04?
I think that the only proper solution is a vendor controlled backporting highway. A process that would allow a vendor (or vendor licensed volunteers) to backport apps (usually the more front-end user oriented ones) and deliver them with the updates to all users of a release. Otherwise, vendors will start pretending that such a release is fixing some Scary and Serious Security Vulnerabilities that might kill your cat or grandpa.
Business is business… :/