Rolling vs. LTS

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Installing and maintaining a bare-bones operating system distribution ("distro"), such as Parabola, is an excellent way to gain knowledge of and expertise with using the GNU/Linux system. This does mean that such distros might not be the best choice for new GNU/Linux users. Installation and maintenance will require extensive use of the command line and familiarity with the file system hierarchy.

Another important consideration to note, is that Parabola is in the class of operating systems commonly known as: "Rolling" distros. What this means in short, is that it is not released as discrete, fixed versions, neither periodically nor sporadically; but is continuously evolving. Although it may appear to be more convenient and sexy to be on the "bleeding edge" of the technology, Rolling distros are less than ideal for the majority of users; because they do not offer the long-term stability and up-time reliability, that are more desirable features to have for casual desktop users and for web-servers. Another class of operating systems exists with a focus on stability and reliability; which is much better suited for the most common "everyday" purposes. Distros of that kind are commonly referred to as: "Long-Term Supported" ("LTS"); along with some premium distros, often named: "Enterprise". Their software is "frozen" at specific versions for several years typically, with only important bug fixes and security enhancements being applied ("back-ported"); but new features are held back for testing, and introduced all at once in the next stable distro release. For this reason, LTS distros become more reliable and secure over time; and this is why LTS distros are a far better option for the majority of users.

LTS distros require explicit actions in order to migrate completely from one major release to the next; but again, this only occurs once every few years, and is usually trouble-free and simple to do. However, there is always the potential for something to go awry during the upgrade procedure. Some consider it to be a slight advantage of Rolling distros that one never needs to completely migrate from one release to the next, since there are no discrete, complete releases; but because the software changes so rapidly and continually, users will in practice, be performing a similar upgrade process far more often, with the same potential for problems, as when upgrading an LTS distro.

You will often hear people disparaging LTS distros with words such as: "out-dated" or even "ancient"; but such labels are vacuous. Realistically speaking, in many cases, "ancient" is referring pretentiously to something that is merely "two years old"; but more importantly, in nearly every case, the software being dismissed is still perfectly adequate and applicable to every purpose for which it was designed. That is precisely the attractive strong-point of "long-term support"; and the maintainers of those distros take great care to ensure that their software is continuously reliable and remains vital for several years. It is far more accurate to view LTS distros as more like a fine wine improving with age, and less like a bowl of fruit requiring constant attention and replenishment in order to remain desirable.

It is a common misconception that "newer" is "better". That may be true generally for hardware; but it is rarely the case for software. When it comes to software, it would be more correct to say that "newer" implies "less mature", and therefore "potentially buggy". It is not uncommon for one of your favorite programs to be broken in some way for days, weeks, or even months when using a Rolling distro; a situation which would be extremely rare when using an LTS distro. For this reason, a Rolling distro can only be sincerely recommended as an "everyday" system in cases where the user knows for certain that a newer version of some software is absolutely required for some extraordinary reason. Even then, it is usually possible to compile and install the newer version of that one program or component on an LTS operating system, keeping the rest of the system in a stable state; rather than replacing the entire system with one of the more volatile Rolling release systems.

Unless you consider yourself to be a "power user" or are willing to leran to become one, then a Rolling distro is probably not the best choice for your primary "everyday" system. Even such "power users" who choose this path, would understand the hazards and would be prepared for disaster by taking common precautions such as: routinely backing-up important files, having multiple operating systems installed at any time, setting /home on a separate partition, and keeping emergency boot CDs on-hand. Those are all good practices for any computer user, by the way. Of course, as mentioned previously, a hands-on distro such as Parabola can be quite useful to any curious person as a secondary system for experimentation and learning (in an insulated virtual machine or using the static LiveISO, for examples); so please do not let this article discourage you from trying Parabola. Serious problems are not so frequent, usually get fixed quickly, and are a good opportunity to learn. The good folks in the #parabola IRC channel are there to help you along your personal journey to Fosstopia.

Examples of LTS distros:

Examples of Rolling distros: