02 May 2011

"Your release sucks."

I look forward to Ubuntu's semiannual release day, because it's the completion of 6ish months of work by Ubuntu (and by extension Debian) developers.

I also loathe it, because every single time we get people saying "This Ubuntu release is the worst release ever!".

Ubuntu releases are always rocky around release time, because the first time Ubuntu gets widespread testing is on or after release day.

We ship software to 12 Million Ubuntu Users with only 150 MOTUs who work directly on the platform. That's a little less than 1 developer with upload rights to the archive for every 60,000 users. ((This number, like all other usage data, is dated, and probably wasn't even accurate when it was first calculated)) Compared to Debian, which (at last estimate in 2010) had 1.5 million uniques on security.debian.org, yet has around 1000 Debian Developers.

Debian has a strong testing culture; someone once estimated that around ¾ of Debian users are running unstable or testing. In Ubuntu, we don't have good metrics on how many people are using the development release that I'm aware of (pointers welcome), but I'd guess that it's a very very small percentage. A common thread in bug reports, if we get a response at all, goes on as follows:
Triager: ((Developer, bugcontrol member, etc. Somebody who is not experiencing the problem but wants to help.)) "Is this a problem in $devel?"
User: "I'll let you know when it hits final"
Triager: "It's too late then. Then we'll want you to test in the next release. We have to fix it BEFORE its final"
User: "Ok, I'll test at beta."
Triager: "That's 2 weeks before release, which will be too late. Please test ASAP if you want us to have time to fix it"

Of course, there are really important bugs with hardware support which keep on cropping up. But if they're just getting reported on or around release day, there are limits to what can be done about them this cycle.

We need to make it easier for people to run early development versions, and encourage more people to use them (as long as they're willing to deal with breakage). I'm not sure whether unstable/testing is appropriate for Ubuntu, and I'm fairly confident that we don't want to move to a rolling release (currently being discussed in Debian, summary). But we badly need more developers, and equally importantly, more testers to try it out earlier in the release process.

To users: please, please try out the development versions. Download a LiveCD and run a smoketest, or check if bugs you reported are in fact fixed in the later versions. And do it early and often.