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.