openSUSE 12.2 delayed, community re-working development model

Calls for scrapping release schedule among suggested fixes

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image credit: openSUSE.org

The upcoming 12.2 RC1 release of openSUSE has been delayed, and the final 12.2 release "won't see the light of day on July 11th," as developers within the openSUSE community struggle to fix their release efforts, Community Manager Jos Poortvliet said today.

In an early-morning e-mail message from openSUSE Release Manager Stephan "Coolo" Kulow to the [opensuse-factory] mailing list, Kulow urged his fellow developers to "re-think how we work." Among Kulow's suggestions? Dumping the current release cycle schedule for openSUSE and moving to an annual or even unscheduled release system.

Factory is the development project for the openSUSE distribution of Linux, which is the community counterpart to the SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) product line.

Citing more delayed milestones than any other previous release, Kulow lamented that "every week I fight the same battle: Making sure that the mess generated by updates of random packages generates a working system. Very fortunately we have an increasing number of contributors that update versions or fix bugs in packages, but the end result gets worse."

Apparently, as individual packages are fixed or updated, the ripple effect of other packages being effected is wreaking havoc within the current development model. This has caused a huge backlog of randomly broken packages that need to be fixed.

"Very fortunately we have an increasing number of contributors that update versions or fix bugs in packages, but lately, the end result has been getting worse, not better. And [in my opinion] it's because we can’t keep up in the current model," Kulow wrote.

Poortvliet was quick to add his public thoughts about Kulow's statements on the openSUSE blog that went live at 1000 EDT morning.

"The mail by Coolo serves as a wakeup-call for openSUSE," Poortvliet wrote in a draft of the blog entry released to the press prior to its posting.

Both Kulow and Poortvliet are trying to frame their messages as the start of a discussion on what to do next, for, as Poortvliet emphasized, just throwing more developers at the problem won't solve anything.

Kulow, for his part, presented three ideas to help get the discussion going.

  • More developers doing integration work. These integrators will be given maintainer status so they can work on packages get them fixed in a more streamlined fashion.
  • Implement more "pure staging" projects over develop projects. "Having apache in Apache and apache modules in Apache:Modules and ruby and rubygems in different projects may have appeared like a clever plan when set up, but it's a nightmare when it comes to Factory development," Kulow explained.
  • Trash the current release schedules. Perhaps the most radical notion of all, Kulow suggested that the current schedule be scrapped altogether or changed to an annual event. "Let's say always in April and then rebase [on] Tumbleweed (and skip this cursed 12.2 release)."

The Tumbleweed project is a rolling updates version of openSUSE containing the latest stable versions of all software, instead of relying on periodic release cycles.

It is not entirely clear how such a move will effect SLE. Other enterprise distros have worked with rolling releases before, but there is a strong argument for keeping to a certain cadence, so release teams on openSUSE and SLE can have some synchronization.

Poortvliet does see at least one potential SLE problem with a shift to Tumbleweed.

"Tumbleweed needs to rebase on new releases as it's not designed to roll forever. So it would depend on new SLE releases for major plumbing work which, in effect, simply moves the problem to SUSE," Poortvliet wrote.

Even though the openSUSE community is being transparent with addressing these issues, it is fair to say that several questions will be raised by the onset of these problems, most notably why the openSUSE development model suddenly finds itself unable to use its own method of getting releases out the door every eight months.

The eight-month cycle was originally adopted in early 2009, with openSUSE developers citing the six-month release cycles of rivals Fedora and Ubuntu as being too short.

"To give us something to plan around, we would like to propose a fixed release schedule. As a six-month release schedule is not something we consider feasible to maintain high-quality standards, we are proposing a fixed eight-month schedule," Kulow wrote at the time.

The openSUSE Build Service has been a key component of the community's Factory development model, producing the Factory package set for unstable-version development and testing. But in his message to the Factory mailing list today, Kulow suggested that "[t]he broken download.opensuse.org and the several outages of the Build Service surely didn't improve things and were reason for at least 2 slips" of the 12.2 release schedule.

Interestingly, the idea of a rolling release was addressed during openSUSE's participation in the 2009 Google Summer of Code program, so this is not a new concept within the community.

How this discussion shakes out is anyone's guess for now. But this is not something that will be lightly regarded, as SUSE continues to competes hard with Red Hat and Canonical for enterprise market share.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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