Linux

Five years or five months? Which is the better upgrade cycle?


Microsoft released Windows XP back in 2001. Five years later, the next major version - Windows Vista - inches towards its ultimate launch. Since 2001, XP has only been treated to two revisions - one minor bug fix in Service Pack 1 and a reasonably major one in Service Pack 2. That's on top of scores of other security and product updates.

In the space of the same 5 years, how many revisions of Linux has there been? Who knows? If Microsoft takes forever to update its products, it seems to me that Linux updates too quickly. 

A little over a year ago, I started kicking around SuSe Professional 9.4. Within a month of installing that, SuSe released SuSe 10.0 which I dutifully installed and tweaked. I got it just where I like in time for SuSe 10.1 to appear. And SuSe 10.2 is now in Beta.

Likewise, Red Hat just released Fedora Core 6 after having released Fedore Core 5 at the beginning of the year. And all of that ignores last week's release of the "Edgy Eft" version of Ubuntu following "Dapper Drake" in June.

The major releases of Linux are only part of the problem. When you get to subcomponents, it's just as bad. For example, the GNOME project has moved from GNOME 2.12 thru 2.14 to having just released GNOME 2.16. KDE also has been undergoing rapid change, releasing KDE 3.5 last fall and now having just spit out KDE 3.5.5

It would be one thing if these updates could be applied easily, but often - and especially with major kernel updates - you can't simply upgrade the system. The best way to get a stable system to do a complete reinstall.

I think this is one of the things that causes resistance to Linux in a business environment. It's one thing to keep your personal machine up to date. It's yet another when you have dozens or hundreds of machines to worry about.  Businesses crave stability. Network administrators don't have the time to constantly reinstall servers and desktops to stay current with the latest versions. Ideally, all of your servers and workstations are on the same versions with all of the same patches applied. Rapid change may be good to stay nimble, but it creates support overhead that few IT people have time for.

Microsoft software's relative stability and the ease of patching when problems to arise make it more attractive. Linux and open source software updates so frequently not only does it make it hard to keep up, it creates the impression that the software is not 'done' nor ready for prime time. 

Five years is too long to wait for significant updates and changes. Five years is an eternity in the computer age. At the same time, updating every five to six months is also a bad thing. For Linux to be more widely adopted, it should have a more rational upgrade schedule and way to keep current with the updates. 

 

3 comments
stress junkie
stress junkie

This is a good topic. It should have attracted more attention.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Have you fallen into the new version must have it trap? Upgrade when you have to or when you need to, not just because it's there.

stress junkie
stress junkie

... major Linux distributions maintain support for any given version for a long time. I had a similar experience with SuSE. I had purchased and installed v9.2 when 6 months later they released v9.3 at a $10 increase. I got really upset and didn't upgrade until after v10.1 was released. Then I installed the free version. However during that time Novell continued to support v9.2 with all of the software that had been included in the distribution. They maintained the same version of KDE and Gnome that came with SuSE v9.2. As far as I know they may still be supporting that version of SuSE Linux. By support I mean that they backport patches as they become availble. It's not unusual for SuSE to provide a new minor version of the kernel three times a year or so. There are patches for various applications and system libraries released every week. You don't have to install the latest release of any given Linux distribution. You could standardize on one version of your favorite Linux distribution and keep using that for years. The nice thing is that if you use the free version of any Linux distribution you can legally install it on as many machines as you want. I think that if you pay for SuSE Linux, for example, you have access to licensed third party software. That might be a problem if you want to install that version on numerous machines. Some Linux distributions are well known for having long release cycles. These distributions, such as Debian or Slackware, are nice to use because eventually the number bug patches in a given period of time level off. You don't have as many bug patches to apply in any given period of time. Bleeding edge distributions like SuSE have numerous bug patches every week. It's still okay. I've never had a patch break an application. That's not the case with Microsoft patches. I can understand Microsoft's position on a theoretical level. Probably more than half of the computers running Windows are using a boot leg license. However their approach to try to recover that market makes them very unfriendly to legitimate customers. In a practical sense, Microsoft is richer than God, so they really don't need to recover the money that they lose to the black market. When you balance that against the hardships that they force on their customers you have to conclude that Microsoft is an unfriendly vendor. They are slowly creating more hardships on their legal customers than the customers would experience changing vendors for sofware products. It's like breaking up in a bad personal relationship. When the pain of staying is greater than the pain of leaving then it's time to leave. Microsoft's policies toward its legal customers is approaching the tipping point of pain for people to seek alternate solutions.

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