One of the greatest problems hindering desktop Linux is its diversity.  With 800+ distributions, dozens of user interfaces and lots of different applications that do the same things, it's no secret that the Linux world is convoluted for developers and users.  But if Mark Shuttleworth has his way, the free-software community might become a little saner.

In an interview with derstandard.at, Shuttleworth discussed ongoing efforts to coordinate Ubuntu releases more tightly with Debian's development cycle, hoping that other distributions and upstream projects will follow suit.  With the adoption of a "Meta Release Cycle," he argued, the efforts of all free-software developers could be made more effective by allowing the latest versions of applications to travel downstream at the same speed.

Benevolent domineering?

Some may see this move as an attempt by Ubuntu--which has long faced hostility from geeks who resent its success or focus on bringing normal people into the Linux fold--to domineer the Linux world.  To a certain extent, this may be true: if Ubuntu tells upstream projects to adjust their work cycles according to Ubuntu's agenda, many developers are going to have little choice but to comply, if they want their applications to be kept in sync with the world's most popular Linux distribution.

But a little benevolent domineering is exactly what the Linux community needs in order to move beyond the organizational mayhem that currently impedes its progress.  If other projects follow Ubuntu's lead and work together, we could finally enjoy a situation where all the latest stable software is released at the same time, instead of forcing distributions and users to sacrifice features for reliability, or vice-versa.

And while Ubuntu may seem to be using its influence to dictate terms to other projects, no one is under an obligation to comply.  If developers choose to stick to their own schedules without taking the needs of other groups into account, that's their choice.  But it will likely mean being left out of the mainstream free-software ecosystem.

Of course, coordinating development is easier said than done.  For one, I'm wary of Debian's ability to meet a potential agreement to coordinate freeze dates with Ubuntu, given Debian's tendency in the past to miss deadlines.  Shuttleworth and Canonical should be careful not to let the meta release cycle impede Ubuntu's impressive historical success in rigorously adhering to development roadmaps.

Despite the difficulty of enforcing coordinated release cycles, however, they are a worthy goal that will benefit all Linux users, whatever their distribution of choice.  Let's hope Shuttleworth's newest vision becomes reality soon.