You’re Now in the Decade of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS
IN NOVEMBER, Canonical announced that Ubuntu 18.04 LTS will receive support for 10 years, doubling the lifespan of Ubuntu’s historical longterm support releases. This seems crazy, but if you look at the Ubuntu ecosystem, specifically the server world, it’s not so strange after all.
Consider first the timeline being discussed here. In the technology and software world, 10 years is an entire lifetime. Facebook got rolling in 2005, only 13 years ago. Instagram is only eight years old. Canonical itself has only been around since 2004.
A 10-year support horizon seems ambitious. But in a world where Canonical and Red Hat make their money catering to cloud customers, actions may seem puzzling to the desktop user. After all, Ubuntu has iterated through Linux kernels and provided new features via new version releases. Does that mean Ubuntu 18.04 will become stale?
To users of Ubuntu Server, a long-term support horizon of 10 years means more predictability. Applications will have a known stable platform to target. And applications for the server increasingly mean those that run in a Ubuntu Server virtual machine, or in a Docker container on top of Ubuntu, eliminating the reliance on the server to fetch packages from a repository.
Think about containerized applications, whether that be an application deployed as a Docker container, Snap, Flatpak, or AppImage. All those systems include the application’s dependencies in the container. If an application needs a specific version of Python 2.7, for example, there’s no need to ensure the system’s Python version is correct. The user can install the containerized version, which comes with its own copy of that Python version. If that’s the paradigm, what’s the value in retiring an older version of the base OS? The libraries running on the OS become increasingly irrelevant at the application level, relegating OS updates to security patches for the base system and the occasional kernel upgrade.
For the desktop, the story is becoming much the same. Canonical has been pushing Snaps on Ubuntu users for a while. The GNOME Software app store includes Snappy packages as well as packages available through Apt repositories. (Fedora does the same, but with Flatpak instead of Snappy.) AppImage is also gaining popularity among developers as a generic format. In fact, one of the big desktop updates in Ubuntu 18.10 was better GUI integration of Snap package administration.
Does this mean an end to Ubuntu versions? There’s no indication (yet) that this is the case. Ubuntu has released LTS versions in the April of every even year since 2012. Ubuntu 14.04 is still receiving support until April 2019, for example. LTS releases are hardly the only releases that users have available. Ubuntu also releases versions in the April of odd years, as well as annual versions around October. While much shorterlived, these act as testing grounds for where the OS is moving, and can be a preview of things to come. (Ubuntu dumped the Unity desktop for GNOME in 17.10 before the 18.04 LTS release.) I still expect to see Ubuntu 19.04 come April.
As with the IBM acquisition of Red Hat, these moves by Ubuntu will probably not have earthshaking effects on desktop users. Canonical, like IBM and Red Hat, is catering to the server and cloud customers who pay the bills, even if they claim to still love the desktop.
In a post on the Ubuntu blog, Canonical’s James Nunns said, “Whilst Canonical has lots of projects, we are not shifting away from Ubuntu Desktop— we love it and we love that users love it. Canonical and Ubuntu are intertwined, the success of one supports the other and vice versa.”
People do love Ubuntu and derivatives like Mint as a desktop OS. But it’s obvious that Canonical’s development efforts in projects like OpenStack will outpace those of the desktop. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I miss the days when every new Ubuntu version meant an awesome new desktop feature or improvement.
Buy an XPS 13 with Ubuntu 18.04, and the OS will be OK for a decade.