Jul. 30, 2007
SimplyMEPIS, a very popular desktop Linux, is going to change back to using Debian Linux for its core from Ubuntu. In March of 2006, MEPIS founder Warren Woodford, decided to switch to Ubuntu from Debian for the next version of SimplyMEPIS, version 6.0. The plan was to use Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (Long Term Service), aka Dapper Drake, as MEPIS' foundation.
Woodford made this move because Ubuntu has a six-month stable release cycle that will enable MEPIS to offer its customers a dependable release schedule, Woodford explained at the time. "The switch to the Ubuntu pools was made to provide our users with a more stable underlying system," he said.
Things have changed. "Dapper was not updated in the way our users expected," Woodford said. "Personally, I think the Ubuntu people spoke sincerely and accurately, but perhaps ambiguously. So there was a misunderstanding among users. The fact is Dapper was updated with security fixes, but not with new versions of the applications."
At first, Woodford worked around this. "In 6.5 [the next released version of MEPIS] I attempted to create an incremental path forward for MEPIS and Dapper by compiling newer versions of applications for the 6.0 base, and with a lot of work I succeeded for that release. However, along the way I discovered that many of the packages in the Ubuntu Dapper pools were greatly out of date and not very useful to MEPIS and Dapper users."
You might ask: Why doesn't Woodford make the six-month releases of Ubuntu, such as the recently launched Feisty Fawn, Ubuntu 7.04, MEPIS' foundation?
Woodford explained that Ubuntu is rebuilt almost from scratch every six months using source packages from Debian EXPERIMENTAL. "This is a wonderful thing from the point of view of improving the Debian EXPERIMENTAL code. Over time the improvements will make their way through Debian Unstable, Debian Testing and finally to Debian Stable."
But, Woodford said, for MEPIS users this means that Ubuntu does not provide a foundation for long term incremental upgrades. "Ubuntu is almost a whole new distro each time it's released," he said. "By using the EXPERIMENTAL code, each and every time, the Ubuntu code tree is inherently less stable than the Debian code tree, which contains additional levels of testing and vetting and fixing of code."
Woodford said that sometimes the Ubuntu tree contains desirable newer versions of major user applications, and the major user applications, such as Firefox and OpenOffice, come from upstream sources where the code was already stable.
So it is that Woodford has decided to go back to Debian for MEPIS' Linux heard. In particular, he will be using Debian GNU/Linux version 4.0—code-named Etch.
"For the next release of MEPIS, we are using a common core based on Debian. As usual, we will have a MEPIS kernel optimized for performance and out-of-the-box hardware compatibility," Woodford said.
When it comes to applications, Woodford will be using either up-to-date binaries or compile either the "Debian or Ubuntu variant of the source code, using whichever appears to be the best compromise of up-to-date and stable code."
Woodford has also found that although Ubuntu is source compatible with Debian, it is becoming less and less binary compatible with Debian. "This was not obvious over a year ago, but it is very obvious now," he said.
What all this means for users is that, "This new process will allow us to have a major release that can be incrementally updated for two years," Woodford said.
The first test release of the new Debian-based SimplyMEPIS is expected to appear in early August.
—Steven J. Vaughan Nichols