The latest release of Debian, "Etch", may slip another month, according to some Debian developers. In the meantime, Ubuntu, a distribution based on Debian, has formed a deal with Linspire that will see that company dump its Debian base for an Ubuntu link.

Debian, one of the most highly regarded Linux, was originally planned for release on 4 December. A funding project called Dunc-Tank was created to help meet the deadline by funding two release managers - Andreas Barth and Steve Langasek - to work full time fixing bugs.

Nevertheless the deadline came and went, and the final release is still not in sight. On Wednesday, Langasek remarked publicly that the release could slip to March. "It's plausible that we will still be able to release Etch in February, but given outstanding issues, it's by no means guaranteed," he said, according to a report on industry website ZDNet UK.

The delays have caused frustration for Debian developers, many of whom disagree with the basic idea of setting a release deadline. In a January developer poll on release date expectations, nearly half refused to specify a date, saying the distribution should be released when it is ready.

"A time-based release plan for Debian just can't work," wrote one contributor to a Debian developer mailing list. "Saying almost two years before we'll release Sarge+1 at this precise date is not only unrealistic, but also stupid."

Many developers also disagreed with the Dunc-Tank project, causing some to slow down their work, according to Barth, although he doesn't believe Dunc-Tank contributed to the release delay.

Long release delays have been a persistent problem with Debian, one factor that led to the creation of the Debian-based Ubuntu project. Ubuntu has a commercially oriented sponsor in the form of Canonical, founded by South African IT billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, and has stuck to a more frequent release schedule.

On Thursday, Canonical and Linspire announced a technology partnership that will see Linspire and Freespire move to a Ubuntu base, while Ubuntu users will gain access to Linspire's software delivery technology, called CNR. Linspire was previously based on Debian.

The companies specifically noted that Linspire would "benefit from Ubuntu's fast-moving development cycles".

Ubuntu-based Freespire test releases will begin to appear in the first quarter of this year, with the final release in the second quarter, following the April release of Ubuntu 7.04.