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Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat: detailed release schedule

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Ubuntu Maverick MeerkatOn April 2 2010, Mark Shuttleworth revealed the name of the upcoming Ubuntu 10.10 release: Maverick Meerkat. As usual, I hopped to the Release Schedule page at Ubuntu’s site. This is the spot of reference for everything in the development/release cycle of every single version. But most people don’t know what each step in the process means. Let’s discuss them in detail now.

Let’s start with the last line of the page linked above. On Sunday October 10, that is the 10/10/10 Ubuntu v10.10 will see the light. This is a very tight release plan. Let’s try to identify where we are now, supposing that the project is still on track. July 11 corresponds to Release Development Iteration 2. What are all these Iterations? These are phases that represent milestones of the schedule, and refer to what activities can happen during this time. The milestones are reached when a certain intermediate release is made. Those interim releases are:

  • Alpha 1: went live on June 3. Here is where Alpha testers jump in and help find out what is broken or not completely developed. In this version they’ve found several possible problems and provided temporary workarounds so that users could still test other functionalities:
  • Ubuntu Netbook launcher (both the 2D and 3D variants) have an empty “Favourites” tab. Due to the same root cause, the panel configuration looks like in standard GNOME instead of the UNE specific setup.
  • On the alternate images, the boot menu’s “Rescue Mode” item shows as “Alternative desktop environments”.
  • The Ubuntu Server amd64 CD image is oversized and will not fit onto a standard 700MB CD.
  • Encrypted home directory creation may be broken on some images.
  • The Audio and Video tasks are uninstallable on Ubuntu Studio images. Bitscope, mencoder, and mplayer are broken.
  • When installing Xubuntu, the systray appears in the middle of the screen, with three icons flashing constantly. This prevents the installation from the live environment, and makes the desktop pretty much unusable after any installation completes.
  • Alpha 2: went live on July 1. If you compare the issues found on this intermediate release with those from Alpha 1, you will see that almost every problem was solved. The issues with the Xubuntu installation were not solved. This is why they are still listed there.
  • Encrypted home directory creation may be broken on some images.
  • When installing Xubuntu, the systray appears in the middle of the screen, with three icons flashing constantly. This prevents the installation from the live environment, and makes the desktop pretty much unusable after any installation completes.
  • Due to a kernel issue, Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud on amd64 is not able to register images out-of-the-box in Alpha 2.
  • Ubuntu Netbook Edition with Unity does not currently provide a fallback for systems without a 3D capable video driver, such as NVidia cards.
  • Some AppArmor profiles, like the one from the CUPS printing system or MySQL, do not work due to a flaw in the kernel.
  • The btrfs file system cannot be used for installations from the desktop CD.
  • Alpha 3: planned for August 3.
  • Beta: planned for September 2.
  • Release candidate: planned for September 30.
  • Final release: scheduled for October 10.

The Ubuntu crew tracks ideas and chunks of work as “blueprints”: lightweight specifications that help everyone know who’s involved and how they’re doing. Anyone can create a blueprint, while you retain control over which of them are officially targeted for inclusion in your project’s future releases. Blueprints are prioritized as: Essential – High – Medium – Low – Undefined. You can find Maverick’s blueprints here.

Alpha 3 will be the last CD image created before the development of Maverick enters the second half of the ‘freeze’ stages. The freeze stages refer to different things that should remain unchanged after a given milestone. Let’s analyze in detail what each of them means. Always keep in mind that Ubuntu is based on the latest unstable branch of Debian.

Release Development Iteration 1 – Week from May 20 to June 24, 2010

Feature Definition Freeze – June 17

This is defined as packages in the ‘main’ repository that will have new features in this cycle. They must be defined by this date. Changes in the ‘main’ archive have larger consequential issues, as this archive constitutes the backbone. Additionally, the packages are often used as a dependency for other packages, either in the archives, or maintained by others. After this point the work of developers is implemented; fixing the current features often constitutes particular versions of particular packages. By this date, all features with updates to be included for the release must be named and acked by the Release Team. Having this freeze gives them a chance to identify any features which should be subject to an earlier Partner Upload Deadline or FeatureFreeze deadline because they are especially risky.

Debian Import Freeze – June 24

Prior to this date, new versions of packages will be automatically imported and synchronized from Debian unstable into the Ubuntu development version; that is, the Debian packages have not been customized for Ubuntu: the version number of the package in the current Ubuntu development branch does not contain the substring “ubuntu” and there is a newer version in Debian. Entirely new packages (those not in Ubuntu at all) are also automatically imported prior to this date. The import is done by copying the source package verbatim from Debian and building fresh binary packages on the Ubuntu autobuilders. If a new package is introduced to Debian and hasn’t previously been in Ubuntu, it is automatically copied over as well. Only the source (code) package is copied over: the actual compiled binary package (end result) is built by Ubuntu build servers. This is to ensure that they do actually build with the current Ubuntu archives, and don’t have build conflicts or other issues with the packages already in Ubuntu.

By this date, all packages that have been modified by both Debian and Ubuntu since the last merge should have been merged at least once in the current release cycle manually by Ubuntu developers, which normally brings them to a new upstream version.

After this date, packages will only be imported from Debian in this way by explicit request from a developer. (If the package needs to be modified for Ubuntu, or it is not in Debian, then a developer can of course also upload it directly.) This means checking that the delta between the two versions still needs to exist, pushing patches to Debian if suitable or continuing to carry them.

Release Development Iteration 2 – Week from July 1 to July 29, 2010

Partner Upload Freeze – July 29

Prior to this date, non-developers (i.e. anybody without upload access to the archive, or the specific package) can request additional imports if they notice a change in the Debian package and an Ubuntu Archive Administrator will act on it.  Ideally, OEM partners should be following the “release early, release often” process. However, this cannot always happen. This is the last point at which partners need to have something uploaded into the archive, or submitted to Canonical for new feature work. After this date, it must be done by an Ubuntu Developer (someone with upload access to that component of the archive).

Release Development Iteration 3 – Week from August 5 to September 2, 2010

Feature Freeze – August 12

The ‘Feature Freeze’ is one of the most crucial milestones. Up to this point new features are introduced, including them into packages; the focus changes to trying to stabilise what is already present, finding and fixing bugs; we stop introducing new features, packages, and APIs, and concentrate on fixing bugs in the development release.

User Interface Freeze – August 26

This is the point where the artwork and design for the Maverick desktop will be stabilized, so that documentation writers and translators can work on a fixed target that doesn’t obsolete screenshots or documentation.

After the user interface freeze (UIF), the following things must not change:

  • the user interface of individual applications which are installed by default,
  • the appearance of the desktop,
  • the distribution specific artwork,
  • all user-visible strings in the desktop and applications which are installed by default.

While the UI of the whole distribution should not change passed this milestone, it tends to focus more on the user interface and design of the actual desktop design. During the previous Ubuntu release 10.04 (Lucid Lynx), the new theme was uploaded by Canonical on the date of UI freeze. They did receive some criticism for introducing changes so late in the process, since it included crucial modifications such as buttons moving to the left. UI experts were stressed by this late check in.

Beta Freeze – August 26

The Beta Freeze coincides with the UI Freeze. The main focus switches to increasing stability. The purpose is to stabilize the archive, allow the archive administrators to consolidate it and fix package inconsistencies, and be able to fix critical bugs quickly and in an isolated manner. Developers do not have direct upload access to the archive; instead they are held in a queue and manually approved by the Ubuntu Release Team. Once the beta ships, the archive reverts back to the stipulations of the Feature Freeze.

Release Quality Iteration – Week from September 9 to October 9, 2010

Documentation String Freeze – September 9

At this point, developers are discouraged from changing strings or text in documentation. This allows the massive translator community to have a pretty stable base for knowing that translations can commence, and text won’t be changed.

Final Freeze – September 16

This is the main deadline. Usually there are many uploads on the days (even hours) approaching Final Freeze. This is the last point where uploads should be considered. The only new uploads to the archive are fixes for bugs that would otherwise block the release, security fixes and other crucial changes. Fixes that do not fit into this category are postponed to Stable Release Updates (SRU), or post-release updates. If the fixes are not suitable for SRU, they are simply deferred until the next release of Ubuntu.

KernelFreeze- September 16

The kernel freeze is a deadline for kernel updates, since they require several lockstep actions which must be folded into the CD building process.

Non-Language Pack Translation Deadline- September 16

Some translation data cannot be updated via the language pack mechanism. Because these items require more disruptive integration work, they are subject to an earlier deadline to give time to developers to manually export translations from Launchpad and integrate them into the package. This deadline simply marks the date after which it is not guaranteed that the translations of the packages will be included in the release. Depending on the package, and depending on the maintainer’s workflow, it can be that they are exported later, but for translators the main point above still remains: for the packages affected, only translations before this date will be included in the release.

Release Candidate- September 30

The release candidate is a production-quality pre-release one week before the final release. In an ideal world, it would be (functionally) identical to the final release. From here until Final Release, changes are only permitted at the release manager’s discretion, and will only be allowed for very high-priority showstopper bugs that might justify delaying the release.

Language Pack Translation Deadline- September 30

This deadline marks the date where translations for packages using the language pack mechanism are due. Translations for these packages done up until this date will be included in the release’s language packs. After that, it takes roughly a week for the language packs including those translations to be generated and released, at which point the end user will see them.

Final Release – October 10, 2010

The final release is the finished product which is distributed with an official Ubuntu release number, i.e. 10.10.

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