The Desktop is to be Dapper No More
"All Things have an End," said Jonathan Swift, "and a Pudden has two." Such is the case for Ubuntu as well, and later this month the first of the ends will come due for its longstanding legacy, the Dapper Drake.
The Ubuntu release cycle is relatively unique among Linux distributions in that it occurs exactly every six months, without exception — almost. The odd duck amongst the Ubuntu releases is Ubuntu 6.06, Dapper Drake — its version numbering reveals it was released in June, while all other releases have arrived in April or October (X.04 or X.10). Nonetheless, the release was groundbreaking, including for the first time a number of features now taken for granted, among them graphical installation from the LiveCD, an improved — and now much bemoaned — Human theme, and a number of next-generation software packages, including MySQL 5.0, Firefox 1.5, and OpenOffice 2.0 among others.
It was also the first to bear the Long Term Support (LTS) label, the source of the present attention. Long Term Support releases come with the commitment to be supported for three years on the desktop and five years on the server — the intent is to provide a sustained release for users, like those making large-scale deployments, who would be unable to utilize the distribution under it's normal eighteen-month support schedule. The release's three-year lifespan on the desktop has now come to its close, and as of next week — July 14 — will no longer receive security notices or updated packages. The server edition of the release will continue to receive support through June 2011.
Users of the release are strongly urged to upgrade immediately, particularly given the security implications involved in running a three-year-old distribution. Though Ubuntu provides security updates and high-priority bug fixes during a release's lifespan, it otherwise does not update it's packages — those installing packages from the Dapper repositories are receiving software that has not gained new features or anything but the most serious bug fixes in over three years.
The upgrade path for Dapper Drake is to Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron), the second and current Long Term Support release, which will receive updates on the desktop until April 2011 and on the server through April 2013. Hardy Heron introduced features including PulseAudio, the Wubi installer via the LiveCD, desktop search application Tracker, and Likewise Open, providing login and authentication for Active Directory. It also includes features added in the previous three releases, which include the Upstart init daemon, AppArmor, full NTFS support, restricted driver/codec installation assistance, Kernel-based Virtual Machine support, graphical configuration for X.org, and, of course, the much ballyhooed Compiz Fusion.
In addition to users of Dapper Drake, an urgent upgrade is recommended for anyone still running any of the versions prior to Hardy Heron, as they also no longer receive any security or bug fix updates. This includes Ubuntu version 6.20 (Edgy Eft), 7.04 (Feisty Fawn), 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon), and, of course, the pre-Dapper releases 4.10 (Warty Warthog), 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog), and 5.10 (Breezy Badger). While Hardy Heron is the current Long Term Support release, users also have the option to upgrade to either of the currently-supported non-LTS releases, Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) and Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope), or to the forthcoming Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), scheduled for release in October.