As a long time Debian user I have really come to appreciate the Debian repository system. With stable, testing, unstable and experimental points in the release cycle to choose from. Typically I run testing, with occasional packages from unstable and experimental. Or, put another way, I want to use the newest “stable” releases of software which are going to be in the next proper release of Debian.
However, as the package freeze for the next Debian release, Lenny, has been in place for some time it has prevented new packages from making their way into testing. I’m not sure if Lenny is actually over due or not, but what I am sure of is that it will put Debian behind the times with three very important pieces of desktop software: Openoffice, the kernel, and network management.
Openoffice.org (OOo) in Lenny is going to be set at 2.4, only missing out on Openoffice 3.0 by some weeks. The hassle here is that OOo 3.0 is significantly nicer to use than OOo 2.4. Firstly, because it supports a multipage view in writer meaning I can take advantage of a larger desktop screen. Secondly, because the multihead view actually works in Presenter, putting it back in the ring against Power Point, etc. As well it is faster and smoother to use.
The kernel will be 2.6.26. 2.6.28 has been in the wild for a few months now, and supports devices like the Atheros wireless network card which is found in MacBooks and many other laptops. This is significant because the previous option to get these cards working was to use MadWifi, which uses a closed source HAL object file, which isn’t in keeping with the free and open Debian ethos.
And finally, the network manager for Lenny will be 0.6.6. 0.7 is in experimental, and it supports GSM modems, and has better support for VPNs, which is very significant for the travelling business applications.
All of these newer packages will be available in the next release of Ubuntu, and are already in the latest Fedora Core, which leaves Debian behind the curve in this market. Of course people could, like me, use a mix of release packages, but a line should be drawn somewhere to prevent packages in a frozen-for-release repository from getting so out of date. Given the quality of Debian packages have become very good, and reliable, it would be better to unfreeze a release after a month to allow newer, tested, software in. This assumes that this won’t affect the “blockers” which have so far prevented the release.
In summary, experimental isn’t as scary as it sounds, and perhaps we need a different philosophy on the release cycle in this rapidly changing world of software.