You’re Now in the Decade of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

Maximum PC - - QUICKSTART - Alex Camp­bell Alex Camp­bell is a Linux geek who en­joys learn­ing about com­puter se­cu­rity.

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.

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