Rolling and tumbling

Recently I realized that it has been over 5 years I’ve been using Arch Linux continuously, one one or two of my computers. I have been using it in professional environment on my laptop and my workstation; I have been using it as a “home entertainment platform”, as it were, and as a family computer. This makes Arch Linux the distribution I’ve been using the most and for the longest period of time. Only Debian comes close with four years. I have also used Fedora, OpenSuse, Mandriva (OpenMandriva, Mageia and Mandrake/driva Linux as well), Ubuntu, Elementary, and I’ve tested several others, from the rather exotic ones to the most common distros.

archlinux-logo-dark-1200dpi.b42bd35d5916I have been and am a very happy user of Arch Linux; perhaps the most surprizing aspect is how stable the distribution is. On two computers I had a total of 2 major crashes in 5 years; one being of my own doing, the other one being a system upgrade that should have been prepared and not just ckicked through. This does not make a lot of problems I think, be it for a Linux distribution of for any other operating system. On top of that Arch Linux does not make any pretense in terms of user-friendliness and ease of use. But its documentation is clear, its community helpful and supportive, and the quality of the distribution itself is impeccable -in a way superior to its other, more common counterparts. I don’t have a glitch, a package that does not start or behaves in an odd fashion, nothing. Try that with any other distribution without reinstalling it for five years. Heck, try that with Windows…

A few years ago, the OpenSuse project started its Tumbleweed effort, at first a semi-rolling release distribution acting as an intermediary between the stable OpenSuse releases and the “Factory” development branch. Tumbleweed is now one of the two official OpenSuse “flavours”Tumbleweed is now one of the two official OpenSuse “flavours”, and I only hear good things about it.

Canonical, on the other hand, has started thinking about stopping its intermediate releases and migrate to a semi-rolling release scheme as well.

Where am I going with this? Obviously, many other distributions are not turning into rolling releases either, however, it would seem that what was once an esoteric idea on how to deliver a proper Linux distribution is becoming a very credible one. Several factors may account for this trend:

* Having traditional style releases is a lot of work but does not really improve quality compared to rolling releases;
* For Linux distributions that have been having traditional releases, a large majority of them have time-based releases and the “release when it’s ready” is becoming the exception – not the rule
* The new “black” is what matters for cloud environments, which scales up existing issues on package management to a whole new level. The real value point does not lie on rpm or deb packages management and quality, but rather on entire systems and images management, where images management via containers, cloning and virtualization becomes the crux of what package management used to be in the first decade of the twenty first century.

It seems rolling release based distributions provide one efficient release strategy. This model eliminates the entanglement points that each releases would create while focusing entirely on continuous code and package delivery. How the distribution itself is being used or configured is not, however, part of a model such as Arch Linux – it may not be true of Tumbleweed or of course more traditional distros; in the end, as long as you’re comfortable with the notion that no release is perfect, and that no software comes without bugs, rolling release based distributions may just be what you’re looking for.

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