Ubuntu’s Pipe Dream : True Free Software Syncronicity

Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu lead sponsor Canonical has an ‘interesting’ idea.

In a blog post where he talks about the Ubuntu release cycle moving forward, he poses the surreal ideal of having synchronized Linux distribution releases across multiple Linux vendors.

 If two out of three of Red Hat (RHEL), Novell (SLES) and Debian are
willing to agree in advance on a date to the nearest month, and thereby
on a combination of kernel, compiler toolchain, GNOME/KDE, X and
OpenOffice versions, and agree to a six-month and 2-3 year long term
cycle, then I would happily realign Ubuntu’s short and long-term cycles
around that. I think the benefits of this sort of alignment to users,
upstreams and the distributions themselves would be enormous. I’ll
write more about this idea in due course, for now let’s just call it my
dream of true free software syncronicity.

While I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Shuttleworth and what he has accomplished in his life, I don’t think distribution syncronicity is something that will ever happen – nor should it.

Think about this for a sec. All distributions today get to pull from the same upstream Open Source projects like Linux, Firefox, GNOME, KDE and OpenOffice.org. Which means that each distribution today has the same opportunity at pulling the same applications at the same time. Linux in that way is an equal opportunity for all distributions.

Yet equality and syncronicity stops there – as it should. Each distribution does different things with the Linux kernel (testing, patching etc) and each tries a slightly different tact at package integration since the application package landscape is a moving target. A Linux distribution is a snapshot of the broader Open Source development community at a point in time. If all Linux distributions took the same snapshot that wouldn’t be terribly diverse and would serve to further commoditize Linux.

My idea of true Free Software syncronicity is a lot more basic than Shuttleworth’s. I’d like to see common packaging across distributions (sure the Fedora PackageKit thing is a good idea) such that users aren’t stuck choosing a distribution based simply on whether or not there is a deb or RPM file for the app they want. Sure you could always go the Gentoo Linux route and build everything from source tarballs (but that’s a bit painful sometimes).

From a selfish journalist point of view – Shuttleworth’s version of syncronicity would also be terribly boring. I mean instead of being able to write about Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSUSE releases on their own specific release dates and give each their due – I’d have one release day for all and lump them all together. As it is, Fedora, Ubuntu and OpenSUSE release tend to occur within a nice 10 week span, just as a function of circumstance.

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