June 1, 2006

Mark Shuttleworth on Ubuntu Long Term Support

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

The Ubuntu project has officially announced the release of Ubuntu 6.06 Long Term Support (LTS) today. Ubuntu 6.06, better known by its code name "Dapper Drake," is the first Ubuntu release to offer an extended lifecycle, a GUI installer for desktop systems, and support for Sun SPARC systems. In a press conference yesterday, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth talked about the Dapper release, and how the project plans to address enterprise needs.

This release introduces separate desktop and server versions of Ubuntu. The desktop release will be supported by the Ubuntu project through 2009, while the server release will be supported through 2011. Typical Ubuntu releases are supported for 18 months.

Ubuntu was originally offered as an easy-to-use desktop version of Linux, but Shuttleworth says that the project decided to offer a server version after noticing that a number of Ubuntu users were deploying the distribution as a server platform.

Don't expect Ubuntu to displace Red Hat, Novell, or Microsoft in the data center just yet. As Linux has matured, other vendors have invested in providing management tools for Linux servers, which Ubuntu lacks. Shuttleworth acknowledged that Ubuntu doesn't have "a complete answer" yet regarding management tools. He said that the Ubuntu project is working on a Web-based management framework, and that they're "in discussion with providers of traditional management tools."

Instead of the data center, Shuttleworth says that he expects to see Ubuntu deployed at the "edge" of corporate networks to begin with -- which is pretty much how Linux got started in enterprise environments.

According to Shuttleworth, the project has about 20 full-time developers and about 150 community volunteers. He says that he is aware that, with the addition of long term support, the project will need additional paid developers to provide backports and bug fixes that will be necessary as packages in the Dapper repository age. He says it's also possible that the project will release updates for the install CDs as Dapper matures, as the Debian project does with its releases, to avoid having to do a massive update after an install when Dapper has been in support for a year or two.

Canonical, Shuttleworth's company that provides commercial support for Ubuntu, is putting together a support operation in Montreal. Shuttleworth says they now have seven or eight employees to provide support, and that they're ramping up to provide 24x7 support in English and French. This is considerably more modest than the support operations behind other commercial distributions. Shuttleworth says that he hopes they will be able to avoid being understaffed, but that it's "difficult to predict" how many people will be needed.

Supporting stacks

The Ubuntu server release supports a LAMP "stack," so that an admin can set up a LAMP server with a single command rather than installing and configuring the Apache, MySQL, and PHP software separately. In effect, this allows Ubuntu to be used almost as a software appliance.

Shuttleworth says that this is just the first software stack, and that the Ubuntu project plans to add other stacks, such as a mail server stack and Asterisk stack.

Ubuntu on UltraSPARC

Sun's SPARC platform is being added to Ubuntu's supported platforms for Dapper's server release. Shuttleworth pointed out that, while the company is releasing only server install CDs for SPARC hardware, it's still possible to have a workstation configuration on UltraSPARC by adding packages from the repositories.

Dapper was originally slated to be released in April, but Shuttleworth said that the delay was not related to the decision to port Ubuntu to Sun hardware. Instead, Shuttleworth says that the plan was originally to port Ubuntu to Sun hardware and then release it after the official release of Dapper. However, when the developers delayed Dapper to polish the distro for long term support, and to finalize the GUI installer for the Dapper desktop live CD, it became possible to finish the UltraSPARC port in time for the official Dapper release. On his blog, Shuttleworth wrote that the SPARC port "progressed far faster than we expected."

The Dapper release also brings Xubuntu, an Xfce-based version of Ubuntu, into main. This brings the tally to four official flavors of Ubuntu -- the original GNOME-based Ubuntu distro, the KDE-based Kubuntu offering, the Edubuntu offering which is customized for schools, and Xubuntu.

Dapper is available for download. For users who lack the bandwidth, or want to get a number of Ubuntu CDs to distribute, the Ubuntu project also offers a ShipIt program, which provides pressed CDs of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Edubuntu.

Edgy Eft, the next release of Ubuntu, is scheduled for October of this year. Shuttleworth says that this release will have a normal 18-month support cycle, and the focus will be on adding new technology to Ubuntu rather than long-term stability.


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