One of my busiest times of the year is finally over, so now I have some time to blog about what has transpired for the past days. It’s a sort of good news-bad news thing. It’s actually a fairly (days) old news and some people have blogged or written about it already. I tried to refrain from blogging about it immediately, thinking that people are probably tired from my blonts on the Planet, or trying not to ruin the holiday spirit. But I’ve seen quite some misinformation being spread around that I just couldn’t take things sitting down. So if you will allow me my last blont of the year…
The Bad: No LTS for Kubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron.
The plain cold fact: Kubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron will not be a Long Term Support release. An LTS release is supported (by Canonical) for a period of 3 years on the desktop and 5 years on the server, versus the 18 months of a regular release . So the next Kubuntu release will just be a regular release with a regular 18-month lifetime. Now that the LTS “tag” has been removed from Kubuntu 8.04, the Kubuntu developers will now focus on having two “releases”, one that contains KDE 3.5 by default, and one that contains KDE 4 by default, mixed with a few KDE 3.5 apps.
That’s it, as far as “official” facts are concerned. Why so sparse? It’s because there have relatively been no “official” announcement or communication of any kind regarding this matter, which is one reason why it has a sort of ominous feeling to it. Aside from what is written in the previous paragraph, everything else is either “unofficial” or speculation, or even downright incorrect. Riddell’s announcement in the developers’ list  is probably as official as one can get, at least on the side of Kubuntu. But before you go singing high praises for the “decision”, let me just lay out a few other things for consideration. Again, note that these come from “unofficial” statements/announcements.
1. Canonical called the shots. Not the Kubuntu developers. Not the Kubuntu community. And rightly so. The LTS is a “commercial support commitment provided by Canonical Ltd.”  It’s their prerogative to declare an LTS release or not. So next time you see an article or blog post saying that “Kubuntu (community) decided not to have an LTS”, don’t believe it. We just decided to go with it. Anyway, it’s out of our hands.
2. There is no official announcement. From Canonical, that is. Which is probably why we (Kubuntu) can’t issue an official statement about it either. So we’re basically relying on an semi-/unofficial e-mail , the lead developer’s announcement , and word of mouth about the facts and issues. Maybe it’s just the timing. Hopefully we could get a more official statement after the holidays.
3. Almost no communication. I don’t know how or when it happened. I was gone for a week or two, and when I came back, this was barely known. Judging from the reactions of fellow developers, I’m pretty much sure they were also unaware of the decision or how it came to be. It was said that the input from the Kubuntu community was sought on several points. How and when that happened, I’m still unsure. It was definitely never brought up in our meetings. Add that to the fact that it was only “communicated” now, months after the Ubuntu Developer Summit. Of course the reason was that it wasn’t clear whether KDE 4 would before Kubuntu 8.04, which releases on April 2008. That has always been clear, although pushed back from December to January. Of course, KDE’s releases don’t align themselves with Ubuntu’s, so to heck with it. But better late than never, I always say.
4. Special KDE 4 release. It has always been the plan to have a special KDE 4 edition alongside the LTS release which contains KDE 3.5.8 (or 3.5.9 if there will be one). It was never planned to have KDE 4.0 by default on the LTS release. We’ve always known that. We’ve always emphasized that. So it’s quite baffling to see people react “Great! Now that there’s no LTS they can finally have a KDE 4 release”. Again, that was the plan anyway, LTS or not. The only thing that’s changed is that now we have an excuse… er, reason, to have fun and play around with KDE 4 much more, rather than focusing on polishing up KDE 3.5.8. (Hint: sarcasm is mostly lost in transmission over the Internet).
5. “KDE 3.5 will be supported as long as KDE 4 isn’t suitable for support”. Read in another way: “KDE 3.5 will stop being supported when KDE 4 becomes suitable for support”. This is being cited as an important factor in considering whether Kubuntu 8.04 is eligible for an LTS nod from Canonical. This is cited to be upstream (KDE’s) position. I find this, again, quite puzzling. If anything, there has relatively been no collective statement from KDE regarding how and how long KDE 3.5 will remain supported. Other than a few comments here and there saying that KDE 3.5 will still be supported for a long time, I haven’t come across a position that’s official enough to be considered as the major reason not to have a Kubuntu LTS release. Another question that ran through Canonical’s mind, it seems, is “Will a bug in KDE 3.5 receive upstream attention in March 2011?”. To that I can only give Stephen Binner’s post on the matter. .
6. Commercial considerations. In the end, it’s really all about that. We can’t deny the fact. Canonical isn’t a money tree for Ubuntu. It’s existence depends on financial and commercial considerations. I don’t blame them. Perhaps Kubuntu isn’t really profitable for them, and an LTS wouldn’t really do much good. I don’t really know. All I’ve read is that Canonical made the decision “on a purely commercial basis”.
To sum up, I respect Canonical’s authority and decision over the matter. Even if I find the reasons presented a bit baffling. After all, an LTS tag is theirs to give and take. My only aggravation (aside from the “reasons presented”) is how properly they communicated this to the developers and the community. Until now, probably because of the holidays, we have no official word about it. We’re left guessing what really went on. I’m left guessing how and when we were going to be told about this if the topic didn’t “accidentally” come up in the IRC channel. As much as Canonical reserves the right for these decisions, I think the developers and the community deserve the courtesy of being at least informed about such decisions. Whether they will take the input of the community into consideration or not, at least we will not be caught unaware. This situation almost reminds me of how Novell shocked its developers with it’s deal with Microsoft. IIRC, Many of them, even those employed by Novell, were unaware of what was happening. Of course, the situation isn’t exactly the same. It still reflects how trust is important in the community dynamics.
Fortunately, things don’t end too badly.
The Good: Kubuntu 8.04 and KDE 4.0
Not all is lost, though. One of the best things that can happen is that Kubuntu will now be able to focus more on KDE 4 as early as possible instead of waiting for Kubuntu 8.10. While it has been planned before to have a KDE 4.0 edition alongside the KDE 3.5-based LTS, now the focus shifts more towards KDE 4 integration. This is good for both Kubuntu and KDE for a number of reasons:
1. Brings KDE 4.0 to more users. And the more users trying out/testing KDE 4.0, the more bugs, corner cases, and missing functionality can be uncovered. This will ensure that succeeding KDE 4 releases will have less of these issues as possible.
2. Brings in more people into Kubuntu development. And hopefully into KDE development itself, directly or indirectly. While KDE 3.5 is more stable, KDE 4 brings more exciting things to do and learn. More stuff for aspiring developers, packagers, documentation writers, translators, and contributors. Hopefully this can help infuse fresh new blood into Kubuntu.
3. Iron out Kubuntu-KDE4 integration. An early KDE 4 adoption will allow us to focus more and zero in on KDE4 packaging and setup issues for Kubuntu as early as now. Debian merges, co-installability, which section to put KDE4 packages in, etc. It will help make a smoother transition later on in the KDE4 release cycle, when more users start to migrate from KDE 3.5.
4. Focusing manpower. Kubuntu doesn’t have the manpower to “aggressively” maintain two KDE versions. With this, we can focus our efforts on KDE 4 (and migrating KDE 3 utitlities to KDE 4), because KDE 3.5 is stable and polished enough (yes, there are still bugs). Although I do suspect we’ll end up still supporting
Of course, all of these would have happened anyway, LTS or no LTS. But now we can focus on them more clearly, without having to worry about making a KDE 3.5 LTS-quality release. Whether that’s good or bad, it’s up to you to decide.
“All’s well that ends well.” And hopefully this will end well too. The adventure’s just beginning. As Kubuntu shifts its gears towards KDE 4, we need as many hands as we can get. We need packagers, programmers, porters (port KDE3 utilties to KDE4, mostly python stuff), testers, etc. So if you can lend us a hand, drop by the IRC channel, #kubuntu-devel @ irc.ubuntu.com (or irc.freenode.org, whichever you want). The more, the merrier!
So that ends the last blont of 2007. Another year ended. Another one begins.