The Great Big Rolling Ball of Releases

New versions of software and operating systems are a pain.  Sure, they have new features, but each time a new operating system is released, you need to go buy it (for those who haven’t realized they can get better products for free), maybe reinstall your OS, transfer all your data, and at the very least have to wait for a long, long time as your computer upgrades to the new version of your product.  What if there were a way to escape the dreaded release cycle?  What if you didn’t have to subject yourself to this systematic torture but could still have a computer that is as current, if not even more up-to-date, than other computers?  Enter the rolling release cycle.

A rolling release cycle is one in which the operating system is constantly being updated without being separated into different versions.  There is never any need to do a major upgrade.  All that is required is a short periodic update that takes a few moments and can usually be done in the background.  You can run updates as often or as sporadically as you like; you can even write scripts to simplify the process of updating multiple computers (see my previous post).  With a rolling release system, new stuff can be added to your machine as soon as it is ready, instead of waiting for the next scheduled release date.  This means that people working on rolling release operating systems have more time to work on the important stuff that matters rather than troubleshooting compatibility problems with older releases.  More exciting for the user, having cool new stuff as soon as it is ready means having systems that run newer and better technologies.

Before we get too excited, there is one drawback.  Always having the newest version of software means that you are likely to end up with some stuff that is essentially ready, but whose developers are still working out the kinks.  There are occasions where a user can end up having to deal with an annoying bug for a while. Fortunately, there is a massive online community using the new software, so there are almost always workarounds available on the web.  As an example, I’ll talk about Namoroka, the next version of firefox.  I’m running Namoroka right now, and it generally works great.  However, there is a thing where the facebook chat doesn’t work because it doesn’t recognize the browser (after all, it is brand new).  Although I was initially very unhappy about this, I quickly found a fix that had my browser back on facebook chat in under a minute.

Now, are you ready to embark on the rolling advenure?  Excellent!  I have three computers running in this room, and each is running a different rolling release linux distribution.  These are Arch, Gentoo, and Sabayon.  Each has its own features and ups/downs, so you’ll have to pick one that suits your needs (or find another good distro with rolling releases).  I plan to talk more about my favorite linux distributions at a later date, but for now I’ll recommend Sabayon to anyone who wants a working rolling release system and doesn’t have the experience needed for the Arch or Gentoo installation process.

Enjoy your new rolling release distribution!  Maybe you can use the time you’ve saved to go laugh at the peoplewho haven’t learned they can get free operating systems that are better than the ones they pay money for.  Better yet, you could tell your friends to read this and other linux-related posts so that they too can get in on the fun.

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