The wildly popular Debian-based Ubuntu Linux distribution released its newest version, code-named Hoary Hedgehog, today. But Debian’s own offering, code-named Sarge, remains on the sidelines.
The question of which Linux distribution is the most popular is a difficult one to measure.
DistroWatch.com currently has Ubuntu ranked on top based on its page hit rankings statistics, though this is not the most accurate method for gauging popularity. It measures the number of times a specific distro’s page is accessed on the DistroWatch site and can potentially be “stuffed” by supporters.
With its sights on enterprise adoption, Ubuntu is aware that stable predictable releases are essential for enterprise adoption of any distribution. Hoary Hedgehog comes just six months after version 4.10, also known as Warty Warthog.
“The 5.04 release is significant in that it demonstrates our commitment to a six-month release cycle,” Ubuntu CTO Matt Zimmerman told internetnews.com. “There are definitely enterprises which we have been watching to see if we kept our schedule, and I think they’ll be pleased to see that we have,” Zimmerman said.
Ubuntu 5.04 improves upon its predecessor, with system performance, package management, hardware support and installation improvements. Hoary Hedgehog’s Synaptic package manager includes update-manager and upgrade-notifier, which allow users to more easily upgrade their Ubuntu installations.
The Linux 2.6.10 kernel, Firefox 1.0.2, Apache webserver 2.0.53, evolution 188.8.131.52, openoffice.org 1.1.3 and samba 3.0.10 are on a list of the latest open source applications included in 5.04.
As opposed to many other Linux distros that give users the choice between a GNOME or KDE desktop operating environment, the core 5.04 release only offers the latest version of GNOME 2.10. However, Ubuntu today also released Kubuntu 5.04, which is a KDE 3.4 version of Ubuntu.
Red Monk Analyst Stephen O’Grady believes that there are at least four key reasons for the popularity of Ubuntu. He cites Ubuntu’s Debian heritage, the fact that it takes advantage of bleeding-edge packages, its- ease of installation and its core Free and Open Source Software values.
“Debian is one of the longer running and better regarded distros out there, and, more often than not, when you hear of server-side applications running a non-commercial distro, it’s Debian,” O’Grady told internetnews.com. “One of Debian’s principle drawbacks, particularly apparent on the desktop, is that it’s not exactly bleeding edge.”
Given the popularity of Ubuntu, some have argued that Debian itself no longer really matters, which is a claim Ubuntu’s CTO disputes.
“Debian absolutely matters. Ubuntu would not have been created without Debian, and our relationship with Debian continues to be of great importance to us,” Zimmerman said.
But despite the fact that Debian matters, Zimmerman is not concerned that Ubuntu’s popularity will wane once Sarge is finally released. It has been under development for some time and release dates continue to be pushed back.
“While it’s true that part of the appeal of Ubuntu is the availability of more recent stable releases, there is a great deal more to like,” Zimmerman explained. “And I think that its popularity will continue to grow through the Sarge release and beyond.”
But Ian Murdoch, Debian’s founding father, does not believe Ubuntu’s popularity bodes well for Debian-based distros.
“If anything, Ubuntu’s popularity is a net negative for Debian,” Murdoch told internetnews.com. “It’s diverged so far from Sarge that packages built for Ubuntu often don’t work on Sarge. And given the momentum behind Ubuntu, more and more packages are being built like this. The result is a potential compatibility nightmare.”
Murdoch argues that if Ubuntu were truly compatible with Debian, all of the energy going into it could be directed at Sarge and toward getting it released, which is what would really benefit the Debian developer ecosystem as a whole.
“I understand what the Ubuntu folks are trying to do, and they’re doing lots of good work that will eventually find its way into Debian,” Murdoch said. “But what we really need right now as a community is for Sarge to be released.
“In that respect, Ubuntu’s popularity is more harmful than helpful.”