Why is it that Ubuntu only support a version for a limited time? Since I have been on this site I have seen many references to particular versions not being supported. What does it actually mean? After this time must a user just use the OS in the state it is in at the date that support ends? Does this mean no more package updates are available?

Or when this support date has elapsed, should the user then abandon the version and install a newer version instead? I am slightly confused with the difference between Ubuntu and Linux here (with Windows you use it until you buy the latest version) and would be grateful if someone could explain the Ubuntu 'lifecycle' (if that is a suitable word). Thanks in advance for your help.


I have to say this are all excellent question and I will go through your excellent questions one part at a time with the small knowledge I have about the Ubuntu ecosystem. I have divided your question into several smaller ones:

1. Does Ubuntu support a particular version with a limited time?

Before explaining the time limit for each version (9.10, 11.04, 12.10...) or type of version (Desktop, Server...) we need to first see some variables that are taken into consideration for this time limits. For example, some of them are:

Man Power / Geek Power / Amount of Developers - This is the amount of geeks, developers and in general people that work in the creation of Ubuntu. This is the amount of people that can put some of their time to work on the upcoming Ubuntu release, the current Ubuntu release and/or a previous version of Ubuntu. Right now, with the time periods for support pushed from Servers to 5 years and Desktop to 5 years in LTS and in normal versions to 2 years, this means that the Ubuntu devs have to work in around 9 versions of Ubuntu. As of this writing the versions of Ubuntu that have support are below (you can see a more current list here):

  • 8.04 Server LTS
  • 10.04 Desktop
  • 10.04 Server LTS
  • 11.04 Desktop
  • 11.04 Server
  • 11.10 Desktop
  • 11.10 Server
  • 12.04 Desktop
  • 12.04 Server LTS

This does not include the work done in 12.10 which is the upcoming version (As of this writing). So in total, right now, there are 10 versions that are getting support. For what I have seen, the 2 versions that get more support are the 12.04 and 12.10 in a somewhat 70%-80% work for 12.10 and 30%-20% for 12.04. Of course if we take into account the other previous versions of Ubuntu that are getting support it would be something a percent bigger for the upcoming release, followed by the second biggest percent for the current release and then followed by several almost equal percents for each previous version supported. This means in plain english that devs focus more on upcoming and current releases but still do not abandon older, supported ones.

The point of all of this is to get a clear look into the amount of work that needs to be done for this 10 versions of Ubuntu to satisfy and to offer support for all the users of each version. With this in mind we jump to the second part.

Hardware Evolution / Software Evolution

With time comes new hardware, new software techniques and new innovative and smart ways to create new stuff and to make old stuff better. For example, when Ubuntu 5.10 came out, there was no USB 3.0, Sata 6G or NFC. This also applies to the hardware and software in that time frame. When a motherboard came out, around the time that specific version of Ubuntu came out there was no X hardware invented or developed. There was no GCC with better X properties and Y compiling times.

This means that for each new version that comes out, Ubuntu tries to absorb whatever new technology that comes out in the world. This helps the development a lot if the time frame between releases is short, since having a time frame between version of, let us say, 10 years, would mean that it would need to adopt all technologies in that time.. THAT IS A LOT!. Having it in one year also means that users might not get the updates they want or that special version of the program they use in time. A balanced time frame therefore is the release cycle of 6 months. That is why in this example the release cycle is a 6 month time period. So anything that happens in the next 6 months can be applied to the new version (To some degree of peace of mind for the developers I may add).

Basically we have a time frame that focuses on end users, developers and has an eye on new technology, new ideas, new software. Balanced if I can say so.

Ideas / New methodology / New techniques

In order to apply and work with the 2 points mentioned above, new ideas come out every so often (Can I say every 6 months ^^). So ideas for a better Gnome desktop, for a better way to integrate user actions, for a better and accessible computer experience. Having this also means that ideas that looked nice 2 years ago, might not look so much today, or maybe can be enhanced or changed for others. This affects they way for example the behaviour of a single program up to massive change like the transition from Gnome 2.x to Unity. This are also thought into the plan of development of Ubuntu.

With all of this points in mind we can actually say that having the support for each version of Ubuntu limited to an amount of years is a pretty good idea. This would make the developers focus more on applying their time on new technology, new hardware, new software and new and current Ubuntu versions. This might sound like a "abandon all hope to anyone that has a previous version" but no. The fact that Ubuntu has support for very old versions, like the 8.04 and even has a Long Term Support option with their Ubuntu versions every 2 years mean that they actually have a plan for older versions. They want to offer security, stability and a sound OS that can deliver when you need it. All of this while thinking of the 10 versions of Ubuntu that get worked done on them.

2. Do (Very Old) versions still get some kind of support and updates?

Yes. But not all. As I mentioned before, some versions like the 8.04 get support, but this is because they have LTS (Long Term Support) which gives you a guarantee that they will support it for the next 5 years, while other normal versions get a 2 year. Even in this case, if a particular security vulnerability arises your Ubuntu version will get an update for it. Keep in mind that, the older your Ubuntu version is, the less updates it will get. It will still get them, but they could come all in one big hunk of patches on the same day or small amounts every so often. This is one reason to update to a new release. You will get, not only the updates and changes on the new release but you will be assured that you will have support for new technology in the hardware and software parts of the computer world.

After the support time has ended, you are encourage to update since this is a normal behaviour on the software and hardware world. New stuff comes out to speed things up and make them easier, so we should take that into account. Just imagine, for example in my case, a world stuck with HTML 1.0 without Ajax, JQuery, Javascript and the likes. No HTML5 either. Same for hardware. No multi processing architectures, no AMD64, no Dual Channel memory and no Gigalan drivers. BTW, No Wifi or facebook either. The worst thing is... No askubuntu!!

3. Should users update from not support versions (Very old versions) and how?

Yes they should. The only exception is, if you live in a very remote, away from civilization, no penguins allowed place. But you should update to keep your system current and up-to-date. In the case of not support versions, what most people will tell you is to backup your files and do a clean installation. This helps solve any issues you might find while doing an upgrade from one version to the next and also the amount of information that you would need to download.

Is not the same to update from 9.10 to 10.04, 10.04 to 10.10, 10.10 to 11.04, 11.04 to 11.10, 11.10 to 12.04 and finally to 12.10 than to simply download the 12.10, backup your important files and do a clean install, then restore your backup files. Saves you time, bandwidth and you can start "working" sooner. The good news is that since a couple of version ago, new version of Ubuntu include in the LiveCD/LiveUSB an option in the installer to upgrade an existing older version of Ubuntu on the computer. So if you insert a LiveCD of 12.10 for example, and it detects an older version of Ubuntu, it will give you the option to upgrade it. Saving you tons of time and bandwidth along the way.

Of course if you are trying to upgrade from an EOL release to a newer version and the next version is also EOL (For example trying to upgrade from 6.04 to 6.10 where both are EOL) doing the normal procedure like using do-release-upgrade -d or apt-get upgrade will not work because they will look for the next version and since it is also EOL will throw an error. More information about this in How to install software or upgrade from an old unsupported release? In those cases I also urge the user to download the latest and either upgrade from the liveCD or reinstall from scratch after doing a proper backup.

There is even a page dedicated to EOL (End of Life) releases: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/EOLUpgrades/

4. How does Ubuntu´s "life-cycle" differ from Windows?

I will compare the Windows XP to Windows 7 life cycle or release cycle to the Ubuntu one. I am skipping Windows Vista because, well, we all know what happen to it. Hasta la Vista, baby!.

Anyway, in the time frame between Windows XP and Windows 7, Ubuntu came out and then released 9 new versions of Ubuntu that each incorporated new technology to it, new software updates and techniques and new ideas from the community and devs. Read carefully, 9!. Before Windows 7 came out, did you know Ubuntu supported USB 3.0. Windows 7 did not support USB 3.0 when it came out. This gives you a direct idea of how, not only Ubuntu but software development in the open source world moves. It does not walk but runs. After the release of Windows 7 and before Windows 8 came out, Ubuntu had release versions 11.04, 11.10, 12.04 and 12.10 all of them incorporating new hardware/software.

This is all thanks to the direct link between all the points mentioned above and the time frame for development. The hardware and software worlds are moving very fast and for a Operating system to work in it, it has to develop and adapt according to this speed. This is a big benefit and attribute that benefits Ubuntu when compared to Windows. Although Windows has Service packs, they do not offer not even 10% of what happens in the time they release it and the time that version of Windows came out (2 years from the release of Windows 7 up until the SP1 for it just to give you an idea. That is about 4 versions of Ubuntu or 12 versions of the Linux kernel.).

So this way, you can see the benefits of a 6 months cycle versus a 2 year or 5/7 year one. Adds quicker support for hardware so the end user enjoys it. Adds new software techniques to it for less cpu/memory usage and it can be optimized quickly so the end user does not have to wait years for an official fix to appear.

Overall, I think you can see each question answered in a way that helps you know the WHY, WHEN and HOW Ubuntu only supports versions for a limited time. I wanted to add one more question that many users asks and many times confuse:

5 What is the difference in stability between LTS and Normal releases

If we are to talk about stability between both versions, then the answer is: The same. They both have the same stability because one of the main objectives to every Ubuntu version has always been Stability. If you install a LTS or a Normal release you will get the same stability. The actual difference between LTS and a normal release is what the LTS implies: Long Term Support. Which simply means, you will get updates for a longer amount time compared to a normal release. You will not get an enhanced performance, better graphics, more speed or anything else when comparing a LTS to a Normal release. This is not what a LTS offers in comparison.

For more information about the Differences between LTS and a Normal release (Which is also Stable) please see What's the difference between a Long Term Support Release and a Normal Release?

  • Ubuntu normal releases are not as stable as LTS release. LTS releases are more thoroughly tested. Otherwise, everyone would stay with normal release because upgrading every 9 month is not a very big deal – Anwar Jun 30 at 8:24

Let's answer that using the wiki:

We produce a new Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server release every six months [diagram below]. That means you'll always have the latest and greatest applications that the open source world has to offer. Ubuntu is designed with security in mind. You get free security updates for at least 18 months on the desktop and server.

A new LTS version is released every 2 years. In previous releases, a Long Term Support (LTS) version had 3 years support on Ubuntu (Desktop) and 5 years on Ubuntu Server. Starting with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, both versions will receive 5 years support. There is no extra fee for the LTS version; we make our very best work available to everyone on the same free terms. Upgrades to new versions of Ubuntu are and always will be free of charge.

  • 1
    This answer is good and explains clearly the modus-operandis of the releases. But the answer itself does not answer the question. Thumbs up anyway! – Geppettvs D'Constanzo Jul 27 '12 at 18:14

I would like to add few points from Ubuntu server Technical white paper. Ubuntu is designed with security in mind

Ubuntu’s unique lifecycle enables our development team to more easily balance the stability of the system with the ability to support new hardware and software development. Ubuntu’s dual release cycle provides frequent six-month releases that incorporates the latest open-source innovations and hardware support, while the long-term support (LTS) versions, which are released every two years, provide greater stability for systems that don’t require a high refresh rate.

Six-Month release cycle (kind of Feature-Based Release)

--ensures that the latest technology updates are brought into a stable, enterprise-grade Ubuntu platform. These standard releases are maintained with security updates and bug fixes for up to 18 months .Ubuntu's regular releases mean you get new technologies, and the ability to use new devices with Ubuntu, faster than any other operating system

Ubuntu long-term support (LTS) release

--are released every two years. As every IT environment has different classes of machines, the LTS lifecycle was specifically created for those systems in IT environments that require greater stability, rather than a high refresh rate.

LTS versions are updated every six months in a consolidated point release that makes it easier for organisations to install the current LTS on new hardware without having to download all of the subsequent patches released since the product’s introduction. Point releases are provided until the next full LTS version becomes available. LTS releases are maintained for five years on servers and desktops.

The table below summarises the differences between standard and LTS releases.

enter image description here

An image from a Blog illustrates the developmental states to bring Stability and security .

enter image description here

Ubuntu releases are timed to be approximately one month after GNOME releases, which are in turn about one month after releases of X.Org, resulting in each Ubuntu release including a newer version of GNOME and X.

Linux is the name of Kernel , Ubuntu is fully-fledged Operating System based on Debian branch. It keeps on developing including support for new Hardware , improving performance and New Features (Btrfs for eg.). Of Which newer version gets included and maintained in every new Release.

As far a s buying New version of Other OS is concerned , it keeps on updating (Patch tuesday) as Service packs , which can be distantly compared to LTS Point releases. The new releases don't have specific timeline unlike Ubuntu. ( V***a was a failure , they patched it and fixed as ^seven). Also you have to update manually applications like browsers , Offices apps, AV's ( not required in Ubuntu) etc. Here you just to click a button and provide a password for updating.

Frankly if you buy something , then by habit you have to stick to it until newer version arrives. Whereas here you get the best that is available in every Release cycle for Free.

Users shouldn't abandon the unsupported release , they should upgrade for better security , stability , and feature purposes , by following Upgrades as simple as updating .

Yes , after EOL support ends ,meaning no Security or package updates , because they are maintaining three Ubuntu Versions at a Time ( correct me if wrong).

Its upon Users choice if they wants to continue using unsupported release or Newer release , using unsupported will not damage the system or cause degrading. It will simply refuse to integrate new features and improvements.

Useful links

A release schedule you can depend on›

Maintenance and support life cycles

List of Ubuntu releases

  • 1
    Good answer, but blanking out words and purposefully avoiding saying "Windows" (try it, its not a swearword!) does nothing for improving searchability and indexing :) – Caesium Jul 27 '12 at 19:07

A short, simple answer for those who don't need much technical language:

A software company has to strike a balance between supporting old versions of the software, and focusing on developing the next version.

  • Typically they will commit to support only a certain number of recent versions at a time.

  • Many companies will state in advance how long a particular version will be supported for.

    • Knowing this in advance allows big companies to better plan their upgrade schedule.

    • Canonical (founders of Ubuntu) are not the only ones that do this. Microsoft set schedules saying how long they will support each version of Windows, too. It's common for makers of software that needs to be used by big companies (or "enterprises") for whom upgrading is no small task.

  • "Support" could mean providing updates for bugs or security flaws, and/or providing technical support and assistance using or installing the software.

  • As a piece of software gets more out of date, it becomes more and more different from the latest version.

    • This creates more work for developers providing bug fixes for those versions, and for support staff to be knowledgeable about those versions.

    • There comes a time when the low number of people using an older version, its obsolescence, or the number of more recent versions also requiring support, no longer justifies continuing to support it.

  • Sometimes, particular versions are designated as having a longer support lifetime than others.

    • In Ubuntu these versions are labelled "LTS" for "Long Term Support".

    • These versions are particularly attractive to big companies for whom upgrading is no small task.

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