Linux Distro Trust

When it comes to “system updates” I don’t trust any Linux distro the way I trust Windows, OSX or Solaris. No matter if it’s Fedora, Ubuntu or Arch Linux, there is always a piece of something that will stop working after performing a major upgrade. A few days ago X wouldn’t start because the package manager “ate” some of the files it was supposed to extract. Today, after updating my distro with its 220 MB Gnome-2.14 packages, Gnome won’t start (no matter which user you are logged in as) and not only that, but it seems that all gnome-dependant or gconf-dependant apps won’t start either (plain GTK+ apps do work).

Things like that happen at least once a month over here. I have to file a bug report, wait for them to reply, and give me a tip that as an end-user I should’t need to know in the first place. But that’s at least 2-5 days without being able to USE my desktop! The only distro that had a better track in sys-update stability was Slackware. But Slackware doesn’t do Gnome anymore, and I don’t like running third party builds of Gnome that have zero testing. And so Arch Linux it is, with all its problems of course.

This situation has never, ever, EVER, happened to me with Windows. I am updating Windows with all its system updates for years now, and I have never, ever, EVER had a single problem with it. And I have none such problem with OSX either! (OSX users who complain that something broke after a software upgrade and they run crying at MacFixIt and to bitch at Apple, they should just uninstall their desktop-hack utilities — that’s all I will say to them).

I have said that in the past, and I will say it again: enthusiast programmers/maintainers don’t get a kick out of testing. They get a kick out of releasing stuff. Testing is boring. And of course, the end user is paying for this situation. And with it, the Linux adoption rate too. You could always argue that it is “free” and so I should not expect anything out of Linux distros, but when these same Linux distros or companies behind them are trying to compete with Microsoft or Apple at various levels, then it becomes the consumer’s problem too and they open themselves to critisism. They should learn from it.

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gawk wrote on April 3rd, 2006 at 7:46 AM PST:

I agree, i have yet to do a dist-upgrade with debian or ubuntu where my laptop functions as it did before ( i have had better luck w/ desktops)

Currently i am wrestling with Dapper problems (granted dapper is still beta) but with every release there are consistent problems with: ACPI ,suspend/resume,new gnome crap like no , DBUS issues I am passively waiting for apple to release an ultra-light notebook and then jump ship to OSX.

like the new blog (i always wondered why you stuck w/ the slashdot blog and i could not figure out how to get an RSS feed out of the blog section)

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on April 3rd, 2006 at 8:04 AM PST:

Thanks Gawk.

To get a journal RSS feed on slashdot for RSS clients that don’t support more than 1 feed per page, you need to… “view source” and manually copy/paste the journal RSS feed to your client (otherwise, most clients automatically only add Slashdot’s RSS feed, not the journal’s which is listed second).

Joe Childrose wrote on April 4th, 2006 at 7:31 AM PST:

I haven’t had much of a problem with any system updates on any Linux servers, with the single exception being a BIND update on an FC 4 system.

On the desktop side, I certainly agree with you. I have had major problems doing major updates, but for me I think it may have more to do with adding software from outside the offical repositories (especially if I’ve been foolish enough to use both Livna and FreshRPMS!).

I love the new blog btw – keep the recipes coming!

Chameleon wrote on April 4th, 2006 at 9:02 AM PST:

I did have a serious problem after applying an update to Windows XP. I was getting the BSOD referencing an irq.
I eventually reinstalled Windows and applied all updates and did not receive the error again.

So, perhaps it was a conflict with the ATI video drivers, but the problem only appeared after applying the updates.

Regardless, I agree that Linux is not generally as polished as the corporate offerings in this area.

Oliver wrote on April 5th, 2006 at 8:30 AM PST:

Try FreeBSD, it’s one system and if something is really broken, someone ( the mantainer of the port ) will fix it in no time.
But part of the problem isn’t only linux, but many distros – like arch – have no timeline for future developement. They “hack” their way through and around the kernel, with the cost of sometimes broken features. The latter is the main problem too of linux dristos – >features

Bryan Feeney wrote on April 5th, 2006 at 11:33 AM PST:

With respect, neither Fedora nor Ubuntu are particularly stable distributions (Ubuntu is still readying Dapper for this purpose) and Arch Linux is maintained by a tiny group of people.

I’ve been using Debian for a year now, and it works fine. It doesn’t have as many new and shiny apps as Fedora, etc., but then again, Windows has been stuck on XP for five years now, by which metric Debian development is actually pretty speedy!

I’ve been updating on a regular basis, and only found one problem: a kernel upgrade caused by third-party NVidia module to break. The solution was fairly easy: I used the console to switch X11 to the vesa driver, booted up, and went away working. When I tried shoe-horning the NVidia driver back in, I bust my module set up (entirely my fault). The problem was easily fixed though, I just started up Synaptic and re-installed the kernel update, and everything worked again. Fortunately the updates are cached locally, so the fact that I had no network wasn’t an issue.

If you want stable updates, you need to use a stable distribution. Fedora et al. won’t cut it. Use Debian, SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, Redhat ES or something similar. You’ll have to pay for these, but as you say, testing isn’t an itch developers want to scratch: if you want them to do all that extra work, it’s only fair that you renumerate them for their efforts.

Bryan Feeney wrote on April 5th, 2006 at 11:39 AM PST:

Incidentally, with regards to gawk’s comment about dist-upgrade on Debian, I don’t think it’s fair to compare dist-upgrade with the update tools available on Mac OS X and Windows. Upgrading an entire distribution is bound to cause some issues, you can’t bump the major version of apps without that happening. Upgrading Windows is usually a fairly fraught experience as well (in fact most admins I know don’t bother upgrading, they just do a fresh install). However just updating the applications within a distribution is something with which Debian has never given me any trouble, and on that metric, is on a par with Windows and Mac OS X.

Indeed, I’d nearly go as far to say that Windows and Mac OS X are on a par with Debian. It wasn’t so long ago that each Windows upgrade required the network admin to come in to do it on a Saturday, so they’d have the entire weekend if things still went wrong. The SP-2 upgrade for Windows also caused a lot of grief. I think the professional/stable Linux distributions actually do a pretty good job here.

Tom Dison wrote on April 7th, 2006 at 3:00 AM PST:

You could always argue that it is “free” and so I should not expect anything out of Linux distros

Actually, I pay for some of my Linux distros, such as Mandriva (I am a club memeber), Mepis (I bought the annual subscription). I agree, applying updates is a risky proposition. I used to just let all the updates come in; now I am very cautious, and only update if I really need it. The safest upgrade system I have used is Linspire (another Linux I have paid for). They are often far behind in versions, but the updates seem more stable. I guess we just have to weigh how much we want to live on the cutting edge (like Gnome 2.14). However, let’s not all go back to Debian Woody!!

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