News and Editorials
The Fedora project recently experienced controversy thanks to an updated Mozilla Thunderbird package that surprised some users by introducing major changes. The resulting debate focused on when changes to a package are big enough that they warrant a new release instead of an update, and on Fedora's processes for testing and packaging updated upstream packages.
Jeff Garzik first reported the problem to the fedora-devel-list mailing list on October 11. The update was to the package thunderbird-3.0-2.7.b4.fc11, and introduced two new features: "smart folders" mode and global search functionality via the "Gloda" global database. The smart folders mode is an alternate presentation mode of Thunderbird's folder pane; it combines folders such as the Inbox from multiple accounts into a single, unified folder. Gloda works by creating an index of all of Thunderbird's mail.
The updated package caused Garzik trouble because both new features were turned on by default, resulting in a surprise rearrangement of Thunderbird's Inboxes, and a sudden (and lengthy) freeze when Gloda — on its first run — attempted to build an index of Garzik's extensive email archive. Others on the mailing list reported similar surprise and dissatisfaction, noting that some Thunderbird users are required to keep their home and work email accounts separate for legal reasons, and that with several gigabytes of stored mail, Gloda not only slows the system down to the point of unresponsiveness during indexing, but it also consumes considerable disk space storing its index in the user's home folder.
Furthermore, there was no indication that this update to the package would introduce any substantial changes; it is beta 4 of Thunderbird 3.0, and the previous betas did not introduce either feature. The change-log of the package indicated only that beta 4 was a security update. Finally, also compounding the issue is the fact that Fedora 12 is scheduled to be released in November 2009, and Garzik argued that introducing a major change to a key package should have been postponed until the new release of the distribution rather than be pushed out to the stable release so late in the release cycle.
Fedora's official policy is to follow what the upstream package does, so the decision to turn on "smart folders" mode and Gloda in the update was following correct protocol because the change originated with the official Thunderbird release from Mozilla. Garzik's contention that the user interface changes and new features were too big to be pushed in what appeared to be a minor update received some support, but not consensus. The list did seem to agree, however, that by not mentioning the new features, the terse change-log contributed to the confusion.
Ultimately, the participants in the discussion thread reached consensus that the package update was handled incorrectly but that, more importantly, the project needed to study the event so that it could implement a process for better catching similar problems in the future. Fedora packages are published through the Bodhi system, in which maintainers submit packages for review, the release team approves packages and moves them into a special "testing" repository, and when sufficient testing has been performed, pushes the packages into the "stable" repository.
While in "testing," testers report their experience by voting +1 or -1 "karma" points. By default, when the package achieves a +3 karma score, Bodhi pushes it to "stable" automatically, although the maintainer can disable this behavior if he or she feels more testing is warranted. Several readers decided that the +3 threshold was too low for Thunderbird 3.0 beta 4, given the changes it introduced. Adam Williamson also dug into the test feedback, and noted that two of the +1 votes that eventually contributed to the automatic push actually reported problems in the attached comments, despite their positive vote.
Richard Hughes observed that getting adequate feedback from testers is a challenge with no easy solution — for any distribution. The karma threshold in Bodhi is set at +3 because few packages receive significantly more feedback. Benny Amorsen speculated that Fedora could recruit more users to test packages by notifying them of available test packages at login. Hughes and several other liked the idea, and suggested that a test-package notification system could be hooked into PackageKit, although if implemented it should remain deactivated in upstream PackageKit builds so as to not offend other distributions.
In addition to the problem of recruiting more package testers, several on the fedora-devel-list felt like developing a general-purpose rollback or downgrade procedure was in order. The specific harm in the case of this Thunderbird update is not difficult to correct; "smart folders" mode and Gloda can be disabled as defaults in the next update. Fedora could also push a new package of Thunderbird 3.0 beta 4 with the disabled changes the only difference from the previous update.
The fix is not always so simple, however: if an application changes its data storage format in an upgrade, downgrading could cause data loss or unpredictable behavior. The list debated several possible strategies, including using operating system snapshots to allow the user to roll back a system, data included. In the end, though, there is no abstract way to ensure that an upgrade is completely reversible, including data formatting changes. The best Fedora or any distribution can do is keep a close watch for problems and trust its package maintainers to release fixes when an update causes trouble for end users.
Thunderbird 3.0 is expected to enter release candidate status the first week of November, so interested parties may wish to monitor the Fedora package to see whether or not the problems encountered with the beta 4 release reappear. Looking further forward, the possibility of a test-package-recruiting application could be good for not only Fedora, but other Linux distributions as well. Hughes volunteered to mentor student work on such a project for Google's Summer of Code — although that is still many months away.
New ReleasesCentOS-5.4 is based on the upstream release EL 5.4.0, and includes packages from all variants including Server and Client. All upstream repositories have been combined into one, to make it easier for end users to work with. And the option to further enable external repositories at install time is now available in the installer." See the release notes for more detailed information. We have reached the Fedora 12 Beta, the last important development milestone of Fedora 12. Only critical bug fixes will be pushed as updates leading up to the general release of Fedora 12, scheduled to be released in mid-November. We invite you to join us and participate in making Fedora 12 a solid release by downloading, testing, and providing us your valuable feedback." Click below for a list of new features. This is our 26th release on CD-ROM (and 27th via FTP). We remain proud of OpenBSD's record of more than ten years with only two remote holes in the default install. As in our previous releases, 4.6 provides significant improvements, including new features, in nearly all areas of the system." Click below for details. This release includes quite a few bugfixes and several updates, including GNOME 2.28 final, Linux 22.214.171.124, and many others."
Debian GNU/Linuxpointer to the full minutes). Many things were decided including basing squeeze (Debian 6.0) on the 2.6.32 kernel, separating firmware from the kernel, adding support for kernel mode setting, continuing support for OpenVZ, deprecating VServer and Xen, and quite a bit more. For example, OSS will be removed: "This has been a deprecated kernel interface for some time and will be disabled for squeeze with mechanisms put in place to deal with legacy users." Proposing a new freeze date is not easy. Taking into account all of the feedback we have received, both online (by e-mail, IRC) as well as in person, and some challenging release goals we have set for ourselves, we propose freezing in March 2010."
Mandriva Linuxcontributing to Mandriva Linux covers "a multitude of ways of contributing to Mandriva", and taking part in Mandriva Linux covers financial support. "The distribution responds to a wide public, from beginners to advanced users. To resolve this quandary we offer the possibility of financially contributing to our component projects. Funds would be used to strengthen both infrastructure and those projects essential to Mandriva Linux, needed by the free community, developers and contributors."
SUSE Linux and openSUSEWith the release of SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 Service Pack 3 the SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 Service Pack 2 now enters a 6 month parallel maintenance period." Click below for details.
Ubuntu familylist of positive changes the distribution has made to the Linux landscape. "The Ubuntu Linux distribution is named after an African philosophical principle which holds that the betterment of the individual and community are interconnected. This philosophy is at the core of Ubuntu development and is formalized in the Ubuntu code of conduct, a simple set of rules that Ubuntu members commit to follow. Although the contents of the code of conduct are well within the boundaries of common sense, having a codified standard encourages respectful and considerate collaboration, making Ubuntu more inclusive and welcoming to new contributors." discusses doing user interface design and the tradeoffs between being completely open to all commenters or moving to a more closed-off design discussion. Her post was prompted by a recent decision to turn the Ubuntu Ayatana design project into an "invite-only" discussion. "In a move to try and get more done, Ayatana has decided to try something different and once again close parts of Ubuntu design. The risk of reducing community feedback is that the chance where someone not vested in the design could catch serious design flaws is reduced. However, the benefit of getting more stuff done in a sane and organized matter could out-weigh this risk, especially if Ayatana learns from past mistakes and incorporate good iterative design practices, keep the community informed, and involve upstream vendors in their process as needed." We would like to invite Ubuntu members to nominate themselves if they wish to run for election for the Ubuntu IRC Council. Please only nominate yourself, do not nominate others." Click below for more information.
Other distributionsEeebuntu is an Ubuntu-based distribution for netbooks. Except that it no longer is: the project has announced that Eeebuntu 4.0 will be based on Debian unstable instead. "This is not an attempt at Ubuntu bashing, there are enough people around to take that mantle, this is a strategic development decision to help move our distribution along. Ubuntu is proving more difficult to customise with each release and if Debian Unstable is good enough for Ubuntu then it is certainly good enough for us. I'm sure you would agree." reports on some Mint news. Topics include the cancellation of Mint 7 editions of LXDE and Fluxbox, work continues on Mint 8, and more. "I resigned and left the company I used to work for. To compliment the income generated by Linux Mint I also take part in contracting work based on the distribution itself. So in other words, I'm now working full time on Linux Mint and on projects based or related to it."
Distribution NewslettersDistroWatch Weekly for October 19, 2009 is out. "The release season is finally here. With the recent second release candidate for Mandriva Linux 2010 and the upcoming final development releases of Fedora 12, Ubuntu 9.10 and openSUSE 11.2, the last-minute bug-fixing is all that is left to do for the big popular distributions. In the news section, Arch Linux releases the first printed edition of Arch Linux Handbook, Gentoo explains the recent Foundation troubles and presents exciting new features in the popular source-based distribution, and Linux Mint outlines some of the improvements in the upcoming release, version 8. Still in the news section, we refer to an article listing the twenty best features of Mandriva Linux 2010 and link to a couple of opinions expressing dissatisfaction with the current status of development at Canonical. For those readers interested in novice-friendly Linux distros, Jesse Smith takes a look at iMagic OS 2009.9, a commercial project based on Ubuntu, but enhanced with various extras that might appeal to former Windows users. All this and more in this issue of DistroWatch Weekly - happy reading!" This week's issue begins with some updates on lodging for December's Fedora User and Developer Conference in Toronto. If you plan to attend or are considering it, be sure to read this. News from the Fedora Planet presents news and views from Fedora community members. In Quality Assurance news, details from the latest upcoming Test Days on SELinux and power management, and an invitation for Test Day proposals for Fedora 12 and 13 cycles, in addition to wonderful detail on the weekly QA meetings and team activities, and updates towards Fedora 12 beta. In translation news, details from last week's Fedora 12 beta readiness meeting, a query about the Russian translation of Fedora 12 virt-manager, and details of new Fedora Localization Project members. From the Art/Design team, details on Constantine (Fedora 12) wallpapers. Our issue wraps up this week with details on last week's security patches for Fedora 10 and 11. Enjoy FWN!" Openmoko Community Updates covers QtMoko, fso-simplemixer, qtm, and several other topics. OpenSUSE Weekly News covers openSUSE 11.2 on its way to become final -- Release candidate available!, Pavol Rusnak: RPM Summit at the openSUSE Conference 2009, rockslinuxgravity.com: Manipulating, converting and editing audio and video, Cornelius Schumacher: 4,273,291 lines of code, LinuxSecurity.com/Bill Keys: Security Features of Firefox 3.0, and more. In this issue we cover: Archive frozen for preparation of Ubuntu 9.10, Unseeded Universe/Multiverse Final Freeze Schedule, Ubuntu Open Week: November 2-6, 2009, LoCo News, New lpx project group for Launchpad extensions, Launchpad's status page, Ubuntu Forums Tutorial of the Week, Stefan Lesicnik: Debian 2 Ubuntu - Security FTW, Ubuntu-UK Podcast: Beautiful Chaos, 0 A.D. Promises Real Gaming for Ubuntu, and much, much more!"
Interviewsan interview with Gentoo developer Matthew Summers. "MS: Gentoo is far more than a project. Gentoo is representative of the notions of freedom and the existential open society, a choice we choose to make about our digital lives. However, with the idea and choice, we face the work of engineering solutions. There are many challenges devs are facing and there is much good work coming of it."
Distribution reviewsa review of Ubuntu 9.10 beta. "Karmic will ship with a long list of enhancements and additions, including the sort of core open-source application updates you expect to see with any Linux distribution refresh (new versions of Firefox, OpenOffice.org and the GNOME desktop environment). Beyond these typical updates, however, I've taken particular note of changes around disk encryption, tightened system permissions and cloud service integration."
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