I wonder whether it is time to re-address the question about the (currently enforced) policy of treating EOL releases as off-topic. It strikes me as not only highly unintuitive but ultimately detrimental (see argument below), and so I would like to argue for a change of policy.
Current state of play: My investigations prior to posting this has given me the impression that the received view has shifted through the history of the site. According to this roundup, "we overwhelmingly supported allowing" EOL questions around Nov '11, there was an even split around May '12, and "Around December '12, we had a ~2:1 majority in favor of considering new questions about EoL releases off-topic." The link in support of the last claim, however, no longer supports the 2:1 conclusion at all, it seems to me. Rather, there is a strong majority in favour of letting them be treated as on-topic, if judged by the upvote-scores in relation to the respective answers. Finally, in an 11 month old post, the current policy of treating them as 'off-topic' has overwhelming support.
My case: Since the support for the policy seems to oscillate, I think re-adressing the issue is reasonable. I think we definitely should allow them, for at least these reasons:
- It is the logical option: This site is explicitly a Q&A site for 'all flavours of Ubuntu'. EOL Releases are definitely flavours of Ubuntu. Hence, questions regarding them should be allowed. And calling them 'off-topic' is so unintuitive to me that I can hardly write it down.
- There is a need: Many people de facto have machines running EOL releases of Ubuntu. These people may have questions.
- People may have good reasons to stay in a EOL release: There may be good reasons for some of these people not to upgrade to a more recent release, even given that their EOL are not supported by Canonical. Such a reason may be that everything they need (or mostly everything, since otherwise why ask a question) work, so why breaking the spell with an upgrade, or go through the hassle of an install from scratch. Maybe they are not even online, so security issues are not actually issues.
- The current policy is not coherently enforced: Some questions that are, in fact, about EOL releases are already allowed. This is an argument for allowing EOL questions, since...
- EOL questions are sometimes very popular: Their popularity indicates that the community actually appreciates such questions.
- If the community coherently enforced the rule of no questions re EOL releases, popular posts such as the one above would have to be cleansed from the site, which seems a high and unnecessary prise to pay.
- It has the highest utility: Last but not least, I believe that allowing the questions leads to better consequences than forbidding them, the argument for which comes in my meeting the main arguments for the current policy (as I understand them):
The main arguments for not allowing EOL questions seem to be the security danger of staying in an EOL release, and that not upgrading ends up costing more time and effort compared to taking the plunge. About the former, I admit that denying people answers may be a way to 'force' people into upgrading. But I question the overall utility of that claim: rather, it may turn these people off the site. In that case, they will not be recipients of arguments for why they should consider upgrading. Why not instead provide the standard upgrade recommendation with the answer instead, or as a comment if no answer is forthcoming, and let the recipient act on the advice she judges to be the best? It is my firm believe that after a few security reprimands and 'this is supported directly in the XXX version but you may do it in this very complicated way in your version', most people do upgrade. Moreover, even if I am wrong here and more people do upgrade if you forbid EOL questions, it seems unnecessarily paternalistic to me.
About the latter argument, it seems to be only a contingent truth. Sometimes that is the case, sometimes not. So why not let the community decide whether it is a question that may be effectively answered or not. Naturally no one should be forced to answer a question she believes to be better handled by upgrading. But if someone is willing, why should she not be allowed to?
So I conclude: if someone is wondering, let them ask. Ubuntu-questions should not be considered off-topic on a Ubuntu Q&A site.
PS. On a personal note, I stumbled into this off-topic business by asking a 11.10 related question, and was indeed helped although it was put on hold. As it turned out, however, in the end I myself judged that keeping the old release would amount to more bother than just upgrading, and so I cloned the disk and pressed the upgrade button. And voila, it all worked out splendidly, not a single program or process I care about is broken, and all it cost me was an evening of setting up the clone (and a little wait). But I still like that fact that I made that decision myself and was not forced into it by the EOL ban.
EDIT sept 26: Since some time has now gone and there is a clear majority of the answers wanting to keep the policy, I'll check Oli's answer (currently most popular) It was instructive to me to see that so many people actually defend the policy. I still think removing it would be better, but I do respect the opinion of the community, especially the ones spending such an effort responding to the questions. Good on you!