The openSuSE "Tumbleweed" Rolling Distribution

The openSuSE "Tumbleweed" Rolling Distribution

Summary: Linux "Rolling Distributions" always sound like a good idea. You get the latest stable distribution, and then on top of that you get the latest package updates shortly after they are released, rather than having to wait for the next major distribution update.

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TOPICS: Linux
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Linux "Rolling Distributions" always sound like a good idea. You get the latest stable distribution, and then on top of that you get the latest package updates shortly after they are released, rather than having to wait for the next major distribution update. In practice, though, they have often turned out to be a bit problematic. Keeping up with a lot of package updates is tedious and time consuming, and finding a good balance between rolling them into the main distribution quickly and making sure they are stable can be tricky. It is starting to look like openSuSE is doing a good job of this, with their "Tumbleweed" distribution.

Tumbleweed was announced with or shortly after their 11.4 release. I was a bit skeptical at the time, because of my experience with other rolling distributions, but I set up one of my netbooks to track the tumbleweed repositories, and the results have been quite good. Updates come through in very good time, and the overall system stability and reliability don't seem to have suffered. To give just one small example, digiKam (my favorite photo management package) is on release 2.2 in the standard openSuSE distribution (which is still quite good compared to most other major distributions), but it is already up to 2.5 in Tumbleweed.

There is a brief description on the Tumbleweed Portal page, along with instructions on how to change an installed 12.1 (or 11.4) system to the Tumbleweed repositories. The zypper commands can be copied directly from that page and pasted into a root shell to make the conversion. The magnitude of the change is obvious from the number of updates that will be installed - something like 200 packages either new or updated after changing to the Tumbleweed repositories. Of course, it has been a while since the 12.1 release, so this is to be expected.

If you are already an openSuSE user, you probably know about Tumbleweed - but if like me you haven't taken the time to really try it yet, I would advise you to go ahead and do so, it is well worth the effort. If you haven't been using openSuSE, then Tumbleweed might be just enough incentive to get you to try it.

jw

Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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10 comments
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    hasi.india
  • How would you rate this distro vs. LMDE?

    Warmest regards...
    bakerdriver
  • First of all, I tried Tumbleweed with OpenSuse 12.1, and personally, without built-in support for DKMS, they're asking for it. To have to go and type in a command to rebuild the kernel module for nVidia every time the kernel gets upgraded, which Suse says it quite often in Tumbleweed, is just an annoyance. Just one request that the consider supporting DKMS to remedy the situation, and they act like you're an idiot because DKMS is in a 3rd party repository? Installing that doesn't solve the problem. It needs to be from Suse, not some 3rd party registry. It should be default.

    Second, what rolling release distros have you been using? I've been a PCLinuxOS user since 2006 and I find it very gratifying. Have their been times when you had to reinstall because a true rolling release is impossible? Sure. But who cares? This distro is set it and forget it, for the most part, and that's what I like.
    ruel24
  • @zdnetukuser - I would consider openSuSE Tumbleweed to be at least equal to Linux Mint Debian Edition, although each of them have some specific strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, for the past six months LMDE has been suffering from a lack of updates, but I realize that this has probably been for a very good reason. First, the Linux Mint developers have been extremely busy with Mint 12 and Cinnamon; second, the change from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 has been... controversial, to say the least, and I suspect that they were choosing to leave LMDE at Gnome 2 on purpose. There are probably a lot of other reasons that I am not aware of, but the bottom line is that LMDE hasn't had a significant update of any kind since Update Pack 3, which was last September, and that is a very long time. However, LMDE has a huge advantage in the number and variety of packages which are included in the distribution (see preceding discussion of video drivers, for example), and of course the Mint utilities. Tumbleweed, on the other hand, has had an excellent track record of timely updates so far, although that is admittedly as yet a relatively short time. I personally don't find it all that difficult to add the repositories, packages and utilities that I need on top of the base openSuSE distribution, but a lot of people obviously want everything included in the base, or at least included in the standard repositories.

    Personally, because I keep so many distributions loaded on various computers I end up just booting the one that I need or prefer for whatever purpose I need, so I consider them to be roughly equal for my purposes. If I am doing something with my photographs, I boot openSuSE because they have the latest digiKam; if I am doing something with multimedia, videos and such I boot LMDE (or Mint 12) because they have the most complete assortment of players and codecs. It's all a question of where you want to put your effort, and how much time you want to put into it.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    jw
    j.a.watson1
  • @ruel24 - There is a substantial difference of opinion in the Linux community over proprietary drivers, especially (but not only) graphic drivers. Personally, I just use that as one of the decision criteria in choosing a distribution - if I am setting up a particular system, or for a particular person, which really needs the proprietary drivers, then I just choose one of the distributions which includes them. It sounds like you are doing pretty much the same, so as you said, who cares? My objective in writing this was to make others aware of the possible alternatives, so they could make their own decisions. As for "it should be the default", that is your opinion. There are a lot of others in the community who say proprietary software should never be included, period. To each his own.

    As for other rolling distributions, I have used PCLinuxOS extensively, for several years at least. I agree that it is very good - but it is also a good example of what I was thinking about when I said they can be "problematic". There have been times when things went very quiet for a very long time with PCLinuxOS, and no updates came out at all, and/or a planned roll-up base distribution didn't appear. This might have been (or may be now) because Texstar is ill, or fed up, or overloaded, or whatever, the exact reason doesn't matter in this discussion. The point is that rolling distributions require a lot of work and almost constant attention from their developers, and that has often led to problems in the past. But in the end, it's all good and we can each choose what we want, as long as we don't try to make other's choices for them...

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    jw
    j.a.watson1
  • @JW. I'm wondering if there will be any problems with Tumbleweed and the Broadcom wireless drivers every time there is a kernel update. I used the Packman site to install the Broadcom drivers (and, I think VLC), but I see today there are now other ways to install the Broadcom wireless drivers.
    The Former Moley
  • Jamie, right now I'm looking at Sabayon 8 (also a rolling release distro). When I reviewed openSUSE last year, somebody suggested I check out Tumbleweed, so for the next release I plan to do so. Thanks for the discussion of it.

    And having used PCLinuxOS for quite some time, I definitely agree with what you say about them vis-a-vis rolling releases.
    anonymous
  • @Moley - Which Broadcom drivers are you still having to install from packman? I have not had to do anything special for any of my Broadcom 4311/4312/4313 systems on openSuSE for quite some time, they all seem to work just fine with the brcmsmac driver, so I don't bother with the wl or STA drivers any more. However, if for some reason there are special drivers that you have to use, then I think that would be a problem with Tumbleweed, because they do say very clearly that using additional repositories is difficult, at best.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    jw
    j.a.watson1
  • @Thomas Gellhaus - As was mentioned in one of the first comments, the major "limitation" in using Tumbleweed is that you need to be willing to use it "plain vanilla", with not additional repositories or externally acquired drivers. This is most often mentioned in reference to the proprietary nVidia (and Radeon) drivers, but there are of course various other examples. I think this might turn out to be a kind of "Achilles Heel", that people can start using Tumbleweed and everything is fine, and then they subsequently (and unwittingly) decide to try some 3rd party kernel driver and end up in trouble. But overall I think that if you go into it with your eyes open and aware of the advantages and limitations, it is really good.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, as always.

    jw
    j.a.watson1
  • I have had good results with Tumbleweed in the past but it is a bit unpredictable with virtualisation; sometimes VMware player and VirtualBox can't keep pace with the kernel updates involved. Or is it me?

    On a happier note, JW, I see that your comments have made Distrowatch Weekly. Congratulations!
    R.P.Chuckerbutty