> For newer packages on a released distribution, have you heard of
Yes, but the choice of backports is extremely limited. Taking at look at the backports for Ubuntu 9.04 (http://packages.ubuntu.com/jaunty-backports/allpackages?f...), there are only a handful of files. One is left hoping that an experienced developer will backport your application of choice. If all applications were backported then it wouldn't be a problem.
For example, I use an ebook management program called Calibre. The version in the latest Ubuntu is 0.4.143. There have been more than 22 releases of Calibre since that time including two major revisions. The version in Ubuntu has tons of bugs that have since been fixed. Where's the backport?
Not even Firefox 3.5, which is a very popular application, has been backported. When googling about installing FF 3.5, the suggestion from everyone is to download it from the vendor's web site. If that's the best solution, why aren't we facilitating that on a larger scale right from the beginning?
> Where do you draw the line between the OS and applications? Are perl and
> python part of the OS? GTK+, Qt?
My opinion is that if it's not part of the standard Gnome desktop and it's not needed to boot to the desktop, then it shouldn't be installed. If Perl and Python are not needed to get to that point, then they shouldn't be installed until they are needed. For that matter, Firefox should not be installed by default either. The Linux community loves to point fingers at Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, yet linux distro providers do the same thing with Firefox. There are other browsers for Linux than Firefox, and not everyone needs a browser. Any justification for including it can equally be used to justify the inclusion of IE in Windows, monopoly status or not. The same goes for all the other stuff that distros install (word processors, web cam programs, IM & email programs, games, drawing programs, etc).
> You say it's a technical problem, but the technical side has been solved
> several times.
Then maybe it's a management problem. Maybe the community needs to work to find a way to provide application developers with the tools, methods, and information to allow them to create and distribute a single package that will install and work on all modern Linux distros. As an end-user, I don't find that goal to be unreasonable.