The Future is Rolling

I love rolling distros.

I find the idea of continual improvement in software very appealing. If you’ve ever used a piece of software hosted on a website (SaaS), you’ve probably already experienced it. Think about it, how often have you had to go to Gmail v2 and upgrade your email?

Never.

Take that same general idea, and apply it to your operating system on your computer. Instead of receiving a major upgrade every few years, requiring a nail-biting update process and possible data migration, you get incremental upgrades more often.

Yes, you still receive security updates and small bug fixes in a standard, stable release system. But there are a lot of improvements that are delayed for years, that are just as important for users. Having become involved in KDE, I now see the daily improvements that occur. New features, enhancements, and adjustments, that someone on a stable release will not receive until they go through that upgrade process. I understand the reason for it, though.

Stability.

But, again, having been involved in KDE now, I see the other side. Our code goes through a rigorous peer review process before acceptance. The odds of a bug being introduced is very slim. The risk, just isn’t there, in my opinion.

There are ways to mitigate the remaining risk.

Automated tests with systems such as Jenkins and openQA, and continuous integration can greatly assist with ensuring any issues are quickly caught.

I believe rolling Linux distros like Manjaro, Arch, openSuSE, and Solus are the future. Are they ready today? I don’t know, I’m not so sure. I’m not convinced we have enough automated tests, and quality control to declare them the only way forward. But they are a good start. I genuinely enjoy Manjaro and Solus.

Even Microsoft is on board.

Windows 10 is now intended to be (in their own words) “the last version of Windows”, with Microsoft converting it into a rolling SaaS product.

Just like a rolling Linux distro.

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One thought on “The Future is Rolling

  1. Although I agree that rolling distros are awesome and I use one myself (Manjaro), I don’t think they’re ready for a wide public (when it comes to Linux distros), because of two things:

    1. Rolling releases are unpredictable – no one can see in the future how current decisions and setup will affect a system after certain updates so now and then issues show up that require either some small manual intervention or waiting through till fix arrives (usually it’s a matter of days or weeks).

    Being a Manjaro user for years, I barely notice those issues. They feel as something normal and easy fixable so I tend to forget they may be a show stopper for newbies. We cannot exclude that. Contrary to Windows, we can install and change our system on a very deep level so it’s more likely to see problems on rolling Linux systems than on Windows where the environment is more coherent and closed. Even Microsoft has issues to roll out updates without bugs, on rolling Linux systems, all crazy things may happen.

    If some distro would focus on single DE and would automate all bugfixes as for of updates – then such a rolling system would be possible for wide public usage. However, this would be too limiting for most Linux users and even Solus offers more DEs now and has no enough manpower to do such bug fixing.

    Let me give you an example:

    Not so long ago nvidia stopped supporting fenri based cards, in result, only true-latest nvidia driver had to be split and users had to manually install 390xx series on their GPUs if they were fenri based. This CAN BE AUTOMATED BY DISTRO. But it’s not possible with few people on maintainer sits.

    Another example, there was some plugin issue on Thunar and some plugin had to be removed manually by users. Again, this could be automated, but it’s not.

    2. Second reasons are bugs and regressions that happen on cutting edge.

    You are very wrong saying that there is a slim chance of bugs. EVERY Plasma release is bugged at the point of release, some are more than others. We even had some updates that were quickly withdrawn because they broke networkmanager, etc.
    I love KDE but often the best releases were the buggiest at the beginning and not ready for average users. They are fine on Arch or Manjaro Unstable or Testing, but the rest would experience a lot of problems and regressions. I know what I’m talking about because I run Manjaro stable for years and for a few months I use Unstable or Testing and the ride is definitely bumpier. Lots of serious issues in Plasma 5.12 or 5.13 never got through to Manjaro Stable users, because they had to wait longer and got more polished versions. We on unstable or Arch side had to file bug reports…

    I would love to think that rolling releases would be a solution and the future and they are stable enough, but they are still more suitable for power and tech-inclined users.

    If there would be a rolling but not cutting edge only Plasma release with the about a half year delay to Arch (semi-rolling) and had a team of developers and maintainer to prepare solutions for issues and only then release them, it would be imaginable. But how many Linux users would like to use such distro?

    Like

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