Ubuntu’s LTS releases explained
You may notice certain Ubuntu releases are accompanied by the letters LTS. This post will take a look at what exactly an LTS release is and reasons you may or may not want to opt for one over other releases.
A new version of Ubuntu is released every six months, which is crazy fast. You can upgrade to each new release if you’d like, but it’s not necessary. Each release is officially supported with updates for a year and a half.
In order to provide more stability, Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) singles out every fourth release and promises to provide security updates for it for a longer period of time than normal releases. Recently, these have been 10.04 and 12.04, and the next LTS will be 14.04. In the past, LTS releases were supported for three years on the desktop (server versions were supported for five).
(Click here for a helpful chart to visualize Ubuntu’s release schedule.)
Starting with 12.04, however, Canonical has pledged to support LTS releases for a whopping five years on the desktop. So that means you could receive updates for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS until 2017—in other words, a long time. To put that in perspective, we’ll be able to run a fully up-to-date 12.04 system at a time when we’ll most certainly be driving hover cars constructed by nanobots.
For one, businesses. If you’re deploying hundreds of PCs in an enterprise setting, you don’t want to be reinstalling the OS every six months, so it’s good to be able to install something you know won’t magically stop receiving updates a year from now.
Enterprise IT admins aren’t the only ones who care, though. For the average person, LTS releases can be very valuable. If you’d like to install Ubuntu once and not worry about upgrading for a while, LTS is the way to go.
What’s more, LTS releases seem to be more stable. If Canonical knows it must support the product it’s releasing for up to five years, logic dictates that they would put a little more care into an LTS. In my experience, that’s been the case with 12.04 as compared to the most recent release, 12.10.
Weighing the costs
On one hand, if you stick with LTS releases, you get a potentially more stable OS with the assurance you’ll get updates for half a decade. On the other hand, however, you miss out on some of the newer versions of a lot of programs that are updated long after the LTS gets released. You can get around this by installing packages from PPAs, which enable you to install software from beyond the official repositories while retaining the tight integration with Ubuntu’s package manager.
In general, I would probably encourage new users to stick with LTS releases. Going forward, I myself am seriously considering staying with 12.04 unless I see something really compelling out of a future non-LTS release. Some people like being on the bleeding edge, but let’s be honest: You tend to have less problems if you stick with the tried and true.