LINUX BLOG SAFARI

‘Tis the Season for Rolling Releases

Ah, the holiday season. Children may have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, but here in the Linux blogosphere, it’s been something a bit different.

Rolling releases, that is.

Yes, there must be something about this time of year that has made tongues more likely to wag and Linux bloggers more likely to think about daily updates. How else to explain the recent rash of rumors and discussions on the topic of release schedules for certain popular Linux distros?’Jumpin’ Meerkats!’First it was Ubuntu, with a rumor sparked primarily by an article in The Register entitled, ” Jumpin’ Meerkats! Ubuntu moving to daily downloads?”

A rumor is just what it turned out to be, of course, as Ubuntu engineering director Rick Spencer later asserted — but not before the rumor mill had swung into full speed.

Bloggers on Slashdot, OStatic,PCWorld,Lifehackerand beyond were all quick to pick up on the topic — fueled, perhaps, by the big changes happening elsewhere in the Ubuntu world.

Bottom line, of course, is that Canonical is apparently planning no such thing. But openSUSE? Well, that’s another story.

‘openSUSE Tumbleweed’

Last week, that project announced “openSUSE Tumbleweed,” a repo that is “a rolling updated version of openSUSE containing the latest ‘stable’ versions of packages for people to use,” in the words of openSUSE kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman.

This from the horse’s mouth, as it were, so one can only hope it’s for real this time.

Either way, bloggers lost no time in analyzing the idea — and adding their own two cents, of course.

“The BSD people have been doing this for eons,” noted an anonymous user on OStatic, for example. “Linux finds it novel?”

‘Better for Security’

On the other hand: “What I like about rolling releases is you get to deal with application incompatibilities one at a time as they come up, rather than having to spend a week or few all at once when upgrading a distro,” wrote msobkow on Slashdot. “I think it’s also probably better for security, as you get the latest patches for the software.”

Alternatively: “Only if you can dedicate time each and every day to support efforts and you can afford not knowing when your system will be down for maintenance,” countered turbidostato. “Most people neither can nor want to afford that.”

Then again: “What’s the fascination with ‘rolling releases’?” asked Anonymous Coward. “Seriously. I *like* to know I’m running a specific release that is fixed for a while so that I know what I’m dealing with if I run into problems, and so that if it’s working fine I can *stay* on that release for a while.”

Opinions were sharply divided on the topic, in other words, so Linux Girl had no choice but to dig deeper. She headed down to the blogosphere’s seedy Sudo Saloon to learn more.

‘It’s All Good’

“Rolling releases cause stability problems but solve antiquation and test group problems,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza told Linux Girl. “Fedora proves that people are willing to live on the bleeding edge, and Arch Linux proves that rolling releases are feasible, as does Gentoo Linux to an even greater extent.”

On the other hand: “Rolling releases, if done carefully, can lead to a more stable production process by having smaller changes tested more often,” asserted Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

“Either approach has advantages and disadvantages with respect to random release dates,” blogger Robert Pogson opined.

“It’s all good,” Pogson added. “GNU/Linux needs diversity. Each distro must make its own choices unless they are built on a distro that chooses to change. Even then, a distro can switch its base.”

‘Danger of Over-Exposure’

Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, could also see both pros and cons.

“On the one hand, I can see the benefits,” she explained. “For example, packages that aren’t ‘quite ready’ before the next release date are under less pressure to skip the testing. On the other hand, packages could also skip the testing, figuring that if worse comes to worse, the next rolling release will fix it.”

From a marketing point of view, “it looks like the ‘New Coke wasn’t a total failure — it got us twice the shelf space’ school of marketing,” Hudson added. “Each significant update to the rolling release is yet another opportunity to make an announcement, but then there’s the danger of over-exposure, and certainly less reason for people to get excited about a new mainline release.”

‘Talent Is Like Jam’

Ultimately, “I can see it working if it’s done right, but I wonder how much effort it will take away from other areas,” she noted. “After all, talent is like jam — it only spreads so far, and this is a rather ambitious goal.”

It’s also not clear how much of a difference a rolling release schedule would make to average users, as opposed to simply updating on a regular basis between releases, Hudson added.

“It’s not like the rolling releases are going to contain bleeding-edge packages, and I usually wait a while after a new release anyway, just to be on the safe side,” she explained.

In short, “Who knows?” Hudson concluded. “If it helps a certain distro run out of weird names that make us look like idiots faster, it can’t be all bad.”

‘Rearranging Chairs on the Titanic’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn’t so sure.

“What do Windows, OSX, BSD and Solaris all have in common? A stable hardware ABI,” hairyfeet explained. “Go to the forums of ANY Linux distro and count how many ‘update foo broke my…’ cases you find. A good 85 percent plus of Linux problems on the forums are driver-related.

“That is just unacceptable,” he asserted. “All a rolling release will do is cause yet MORE things to break. And why should I need an old kernel to run old software, or a new kernel to run the latest?”

In short, “I’ve been told by friends running Solaris and BSD they can drop a five-year-old driver with NO recompile and ‘it just works.’ Now why can’t Linux do that?” hairyfeet concluded. “As long as it can’t, rolling releases aren’t gonna change enough to matter — it is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”

7 Comments

  • Pogson did you forget to take your meds? because now not only are you ranting you are stealing quotes from some "Americu" guy and claiming they are from me. If you are gonna rant, at least direct your rants to the appropriate guy, okay? Me Hairyfeet, him some other dude.

    As for Android, THAT is your big Linux push? excuse me…BWA HA HA HA HA HA! Man, that is soooo funny? Hate to break the news to ya but Android devices are being locked down tighter than a nun’s thighs thanks to the TiVo trick. That is why you see NO GPL V3 software included in Android…NONE at all. And if anything Android is making Linux look more like crap. How?

    Walk into any Walgreens or Wally world and look at all the POS junk they are selling that is covered with little green Android logos. Ever try one of those? I have and it makes WinME look like a stable and powerful OS. You see the home consumer, for whom I have long been a voice for, doesn’t understand that there are different "levels" of Android. All he’ll know is he bought an Android thingie and it sucks and can’t be updated. Compare to iOS and WinPhone 7 where both have strict hardware requirements so they can be updated and which give you a good experience OOTB.

    But in the end, like so many zealots, when the argument is clearly not in favor of you then you try to change the argument. just to be clear we are NOT talking about….servers, phones, embedded devices, PBX boxes, or any of that crap, okay? We are talking CONSUMER DESKTOPS AND LAPTOPS which as the other dude pointed out is a huge multibillion dollar business and as guys that sell and service it like me can tell you is growing. and Linux had and has NO PRODUCT there, none at all. Because it is still frankly a DIY hacker OS and is just a mess for home users.

    So I’m sorry, but nobody cares what their cell phone runs. it is a toy and a fashion statement, that we toss on a whim and replace. my GF has gone through something like 4 in the past two years alone and is using a nice Pantec WinMo 6.5 now I got her for her Bday. Nows she knows it runs Windows? Nope, it is a phone, which is the point. Gaining some share on a locked down platform that consumers toss will NOT get you drivers, OEM support, or support from software developers. If anything they are sticking with iPhone in that arena.

    So try again old bean, because your argument just don’t cut it and don’t even go with the discussion at hand. oh and Pogson? Microsoft BOO! man that "he must not be named" crud just cracks me up!

  • Five year old drivers don’t know anything about this year’s new device. Linux kernel works with a huge variety of devices and is quite current. "NO compiling" is a strawman. FLOSS is open source so compiling is not a problem for code written to be portable. Kernel.org distributes the kernel as source and it is easy to compile on any modern computer giving compatibility with old and new devices. In the past year I have run kernels as old as 10 years and last month’s product with no difficulty on our machines. So can hairyfeet and anyone else who has a need for something special. The vast majority of us rejoice in the fact that GNU/Linux runs on more stuff than any other OS. I rejoice in the fact that I need a different image of that other OS for every kind of machine in my shop but only one image of GNU/Linux is needed. I actually have two only because I like 64bitness on powerful machines. I have 7 types of PC in my shop all with different motherboards, CPUs and chipsets. "7" doesn’t have drivers for most of our printers. Solaris and BSDs? Too small an installation base means they have not nearly the coverage of drivers we need in the diverse world of IT in the 21st century. Shortly, ARM will dominate in number of systems shipped annually and Solaris does not run on it. Neither does FreeBSD: http://www.freebsd.org/doc/en/articles/committers-guide/archs.html Neither does "7". So, GNU/Linux is unique in its support of diverse hardware and working from source is a key to that portability.

    • I thought we already had the "other OS" conversation? You ain’t doing the FOSS world any favors by acting like Apple and MSFT is fricking Mordor, okay? It makes you sound like a loonie.

      And the rest of your post? Where you talk about things like how easy it is to recompile? Just proves you STILL don’t get it. think of me as your gateway to the common man. I work with them and for them 6 days a week, and have for nearly two decades, so I think I know of which I speak.

      Now pay attention, because this is VERY important! The common folks? The ones you really really really NEED to make Linux break out? They are NOT LIKE YOU. They will NEVER be like you, not now, not 100 years from now, which is why MSFT and Apple is kicking your butt. They accept this, the Linux community don’t. You and the rest are falling for the "is/ought" problem, where Apple and MSFT accept the world as it IS, while you continue to charge at windmills because it isn’t how you think it OUGHT to be, and it never will.

      Want Linux to succeed? To be on every shelf? to have every single OEM and device manufacturer provide drivers? You’d like that wouldn’t you? Then accept reality: CLI has to DIAF, compiling is NOT for home users, manufacturers should be able to "write once, use for years" with drivers JUST LIKE they do with BSD, Solaris, OSX, and Windows, and a good 90%+ of your OS should be no harder to use than a toaster with a screen. You push the button it goes.

      Finally here is an example of why no stable ABI and Linux drivers in their current form suck. let us say you install Windows 7. If it doesn’t have a driver during install it will say on first boot "Something doesn’t have a driver, can I find one FOR you?" and you say yes and it goes to the net, finds and installs the driver on anything less than 5 years old (the majority of consumer hardware) and voila! it just works. Hell my 67 year old dad installed Windows 7 by himself and he can’t work his cell phone.

      Compare to Linux. No driver? you are lucky if it even shows a problem, much less tells you about it, most of the time you won’t know until something don’t work. then is there an easy ‘find driver" button? Nope it is the "fun" of trawling forums a home user would NEVER find, because there isn’t even a "help me!" button anywhere, find some mess of a tarball, tweak driver in said tarball because it was written for "hardware a rev b" and you have hardware d rev f, which BTW NO home user would have a chance in hell of pulling off, install through a bunch of CLI BS, and then pray to RMS.

      See why you have no marketshare now? Think iOS and OSX, think Windows. Make it all "clicky clicky" easy and design it like a toaster with a screen. Do that and gain huge share. Don’t? Enjoy that 1%. Because that 99.9995% of the planet that aren’t IT geeks will NEVER do it your way. Sorry pal. And this is from someone who believes in the free market and wants Linux to be the third way so consumers have real choice. But in its current condition it ain’t even close.

      • Android is activating 300000 smart-phones a day. GNU/Linux on the desktop is 5% or more and growing rapidly. M$ is losing market share. MacOS is going nowhere outside 1/4 of the globe.

        Of course end-users are not going to compile drivers. They don’t have to. The distros and system administrators do it for them. Here we have a system of 75 PCs with 7 varieties and a similar number of printers networked and local and a few wireless systems and they all worked out of the box. I did a few compilations working with beta software for Debian Squeeze but the stable Lenny worked with no problems. I can use the current Squeeze kernel with no problems now. Our system is much more diverse than a home’s PC.

        So the premise of your comment is without basis, another straw-man. The share of PCs running GNU/Linux has been growing steadily for years with little commercial support. Now that IBM, Novell and RedHat are serious about desktops things will get even better.

        • You mistakenly talk of "Market Share" when you compare the use of Microsoft Windows on servers or on the desktop with the use of a smart phone. They are not replacing one another nor are they competing with one another. Windows owns the PC OS market. It is essentially the only product in that market and generates some $14B in revenue annually. That is a lot of money and it is not declining.

          Apple has their own OS and their own hardware and their own list of devout customers. They used to have a much large slice of the market for PCs, but it pales in comparison to Wintel computers which are its direct competition in that market.

          Linux has next to no presence in the PC market. No one knows nor cares about it on the desktop. Even in the server space, it accounts for only minor total revenues. It is fourth behind Windows, classic Unix, and IBM mainframe in terms of expenditures for servers annually. Linux is used by otherwise Unix shops where they don’t care about the limitations of Linux.

          And where on earth outside your dreams do you get the notion that IBM, Red Hat, and Novell are serious about desktops? They do not give a fig about desktops and really never have.

          Phone makers may adopt Android in droves, but it is not Linux in the same sense as you see it. Droid is just another kind of phone competing with Blackberry, iPhone, and, now, Windows Phone 7. I think that it will likely win major share, but it is not Linux in the perceptions of the users.

          • hairyfeet wrote:"You mistakenly talk of "Market Share" when you compare the use of Microsoft Windows on servers or on the desktop with the use of a smart phone. They are not replacing one another nor are they competing with one another. Windows owns the PC OS market. It is essentially the only product in that market and generates some $14B in revenue annually. That is a lot of money and it is not declining."

            —-
            Take a look at smart-phones produced in the last year with GNU/Linux/Android + ARM. They can sing and dance as well as a desktop. People hook them up to wide-screen monitors and keyboards. They work and do most things people need done. People are putting ARM CPUs in servers that other OS will not run. The longer M$’s share declines the sooner their share of dollars declines, too. Being over-priced is not an advantage in most markets.
            —–

            hairyfeet wrote:
            "Linux has next to no presence in the PC market. No one knows nor cares about it on the desktop. Even in the server space, it accounts for only minor total revenues. It is fourth behind Windows, classic Unix, and IBM mainframe in terms of expenditures for servers annually. Linux is used by otherwise Unix shops where they don’t care about the limitations of Linux."
            —–
            Wrong and irrelevant even if true. According to IDC in a recent quarter:"Linux server demand improved sharply in 1Q10, with revenue growing 20.4% to $1.7 billion when compared with the first quarter of 2009. Linux servers now represent 16.2% of all server revenue, up 2.1 points over 1Q09.

            Unix servers experienced 29.0% revenue decline when compared to 1Q09 as customers waited for additional detail on the Sun-Oracle server roadmap"
            —–
            Lots of folks who have never heard of UNIX are running GNU/Linux these days. Many installations of GNU/Linux on servers are not revenue. It costs much less to install GNU/Linux on a server than to buy a server with support contract. Many servers are bought with no OS so that GNU/Linux can be installed on them. According to Netcraft a lot of servers run GNU/Linux, many more than that other OS.
            —–

            hairyfeet wrote:
            "And where on earth outside your dreams do you get the notion that IBM, Red Hat, and Novell are serious about desktops? They do not give a fig about desktops and really never have."
            —-
            IBM, RedHat and Novell are deploying GNU/Linux desktops and thin clients in huge numbers. They all have systems for managing thousands by a single administrator.
            —-
            hairyfeet wrote:
            "Phone makers may adopt Android in droves, but it is not Linux in the same sense as you see it. Droid is just another kind of phone competing with Blackberry, iPhone, and, now, Windows Phone 7. I think that it will likely win major share, but it is not Linux in the perceptions of the users."
            —–
            Users barely perceive they are running that other OS either. They confuse the "blue e" with the Internet and think msn is an application that runs on their desktops. They don’t care about the OS so GNU/Linux will be very satisfactory. At the rate ARM is going GNU/Linux will be shipping more units than Wintel in a year or two. In Japan today more people access the web from their smart-phones than from a PC. Those are the younger generation largely and they like portability above all else. GNU/Linux works for them and they don’t care about sending money to M$.
            —–

          • You are sputtering, Robert!

            "GNU/Linux/Android + ARM" First it was GNU that got no respect, even from the Linux bunch, so you have to paste it on as "GNU/Linux" simply to keep even your fellow fans aware. Now you see the popularity brought on by Google’s trademark and have to once again go on a crusade to try to change people’s perceptions! LOL! You might also take up some effort to remind users that "Droid" stands for "Android", which is itself getting lost in the hype.

            " People hook them up to wide-screen monitors and keyboards." Surely you jest! Is there anyone in your village doing that really? How do you plug it in?

            "Linux servers now represent 16.2% of all server revenue, up 2.1 points over 1Q09." Which puts them last int the market, Robert! Live with it.

            "Users barely perceive they are running that other OS either." That is true in a sense. They may have a PC, which is always Windows, or a "Mac" which is Apple’s product. There is nothing else with any identity. Of couse they all pretty much know whether they have a Mac or a PC.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

More by Katherine Noyes
More in Community

Which most influences your decision to accept a LinkedIn invite from a stranger?
Loading ... Loading ...

LinuxInsider Channels