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Could rapid releases be hurting FOSS?

Posted 03-16-2012 at 08:53 PM by Skaperen

One of the things businesses do not like to do is so many upgrades of software versions. Once they get things stable with a combination of versions that work together, they like to leave it that way. Usually, most major distributions work well because those distributions try to make it work that way. Then the only reasonable upgrade for a business seeking stability is to upgrade to the distribution's next version.

But even then, such an upgrade of a distribution takes staff time, and businesses prefer to avoid that as long as possible. That usually works out to every 2 to 4 years. Often, these upgrades sync with new PC hardware. Get a new PC and get a new distro version. It's even possible to have both side by side for a while so the user can migrate gracefully. People don't like abrupt changes.

Still, too many software packages come out with new versions so frequently, people and businesses just skip them. I don't know of anyone outside kernel developers that run EVERY kernel version. Even when I worked at a company that developed and supported a commercial Linux distribution for embedded devices, we did NOT do every kernel version.

Outside of commercial distributions like Redhat, the support basically comes either from independent support businesses or consultants, or the FOSS community ranging from websites like the distribution community, LinuxQuestions or the particular software developers.

The trouble is, so much of that support insists on people STARTING with the very latest version. Very often support isn't even attempted until the user having problems has upgraded to the latest version. Only then do they consider examining the problem. And too often that doesn't fix it. There might even be no solution. And just as often, a simple configuration or setting tweak on the original version is all it takes.

Firefox.

In just a few days on March 22, 2012, Firefox version 4.0 will be ONE YEAR old (with respect to its official release date). But the community (most of it) considers Firefox 4.0 to be totally obsolete. They also consider the SIX versions that have come out since then to be in various levels of obsolete. They all want everyone to upgrade to the very latest version, even if it will break plugins, local features, etc.

We're not talking geriatric software here. Firefox 4.0 is still just a baby. While Firefox developers are still releasing bug fixes to many older versions, the community has abandoned the baby.

Distributions like Ubuntu spend some time testing and making sure things work (see above). With the biannual release cycle of Ubuntu, that means people could see the community abandoning their baby in as soon as 6 months. Actually it could be a lot earlier.

We need to do a better job of understanding that being "behind" on releases is normal, OK, and in most businesses is standard operating procedure. That does not mean that software cannot be upgraded when a needed fix comes out, or there is a security hole to plug up. But this should not be expected to be a routine thing.

If someone asks about something not working, instead of insisting they upgrade to the latest version before you even consider their problem, why not determine if what they are doing is just operator error, or if the latest version actually does fix that particular issue. And be ready to help them make the latest version work in their environment if they were not yet actually ready to do a routine upgrade (or help them downgrade back if you urged them to upgrade and it didn't work and breaks other stuff).

Linux, the way so much of the community uses it, just isn't as compatible with business as we might think. With cost savings being the most promoted aspect of Linux, they so often won't use a commercial distribution like Redhat which can provide a wide range of support over several versions, and even support for the upgrade process. Just because there is some cost (it's still cheaper to go with Redhat, than with the more well known pair of companies that have their own OS), businesses are hoping the whole process is cheaper.

Of course, no one (no business) has any right to expect freebie handouts. Still, that's so often how Linux is promoted by many people.

How about we at least find some way to do this better. I'm not sure what the best answer is. But I do see some businesses being turned off by Linux, but instead of simply falling back to hiring Redhat, they fall all the way back.
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  1. Old Comment
    That might be one of the reasons why enterprise Linux versions like RHEL do not do a major version upgrade in their OS version. Unless the OS major version changes, the major versions for all the packages remain same in their repositories. Those are just the updates and not the upgrades. I have seen this behavior with RHEL and CentOS. I know both are basically same.
    Posted 03-20-2012 at 03:40 AM by linuxlover.chaitanya linuxlover.chaitanya is offline
 

  



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