Since Novell's acquisition by
Attachmate was announced, and Attachmate's stated intent to continue supporting openSUSE, there seems to be some renewed enthusiasm within the project. Greg Kroah-Hartman has proposed a rolling release called "Tumbleweed", and there's renewed discussion of a long-term-support release as well. Ultimately, the long-term option doesn't seem very likely, but Tumbleweed looks very promising.
As Kroah-Hartman pointed
out succinctly in a post to the opensuse-project list, there's been a lot of talk about a "rolling update" distribution, but nothing has happened: "So the time now is to stop talking about it, and actually trying to do it."
Note that openSUSE would not be the first distribution to offer a
rolling release option. There are, of course, Gentoo and Arch Linux;
Debian testing is also used as a rolling release by many users. Some might think of openSUSE Factory as a rolling release distribution, but Kroah-Hartman says that Tumbleweed would differ by only putting forward stable packages. For instance, openSUSE Factory tracks the development kernels (like 2.6.37-rc) whereas Tumbleweed would keep the 2.6.36 kernel until 2.6.37 is stable.
Another example might be Firefox or GNOME 3.0. Many major releases are
out of sync with the openSUSE release cycle (every eight months). Often,
users and developers want to use the most recent stable releases of Firefox
or GNOME, but don't want to wait seven months or so for the next release if
its development roadmap doesn't line up well with openSUSE releases. Some users compensate by adding the stable release from an openSUSE Build Service repository, but that can quickly become complicated for users who track multiple projects.
It might seem out of character for Kroah-Hartman to be directing
attention to the openSUSE release cycle — since he spends most of his
time focused on the kernel. "What, I'm not allowed to work on other
things than the kernel? :)", he said when asked in email about his
in Tumbleweed. He continued:
Anyway, like I stated in the project announcement, I'm tired of people talking about how openSUSE could or could not move to a rolling release process. It comes up internally at Novell every few months, and every time a number of us meet together we end up talking about it as well. It's time to stop arguing about it and actually try it to see if it is possible.
Yes, it's a big project, but I have a lot of other openSUSE developers on board with helping me out.
So what's the motivation, aside from moving the idea from the discussion
phase to realization? Kroah-Hartman says that it might attract more
developers to openSUSE as their primary distribution, but "that's not
my primary goal here." Instead, he says that he wants to see if it's
possible to have a rolling release distribution because "it's
something I've been wanting a long time." He also notes that, thanks
to the openSUSE Build Service, it's something many users already hack
together for themselves.
Naturally, a number of concerns, objections, and "what ifs" were raised on the list after Kroah-Hartman's announcement. For example, Vincent Untz worried that some developers might focus on the rolling release rather than the stable releases. Guido Berhoerster expressed concern about the additional workload for packagers.
But Kroah-Hartman, rightly, pointed
out that it's better to try and see what problems arise rather than
just debating the idea indefinitely. In email, he said that he doesn't think it will
be much, if
any, additional work for the package maintainers. "It is merely taking
the work they are
already doing today with the Factory repository, and trailing it by a
bit to only include stuff that is 'known to work.'"
It will be some time before Tumbleweed is a reality,
though. Kroah-Hartman says he'll try it out with openSUSE 11.3, but doesn't
guarantee that it will work correctly. He said that he wants to do it "for real" after 11.4 is out due to the amount of time it will take to get the workflow down properly.
Another discussion that has come up again and again within the openSUSE community is that of a release with a longer lifecycle. openSUSE initially enjoyed a two-year lifecycle, but this was cut to 18 months in August of 2009. While many users accept it as reasonable to update a desktop system every year and a half, it is an unacceptably short lifecycle for those using openSUSE on the server. This prompted renewed discussion of ways to extend long term support for a SUSE/openSUSE based distribution without having to actually pay for SLES.
Several proposals have been floated over the years, ranging from a
CentOS-style repackaging of SUSE Linux Enterprise to updating openSUSE
after "official" support ends to keep a release alive longer. While
repackaging efforts for enterprise distributions have been successful
(e.g CentOS), attempts to maintain a community distribution beyond
its normal lifecycle (e.g. Fedora Legacy) have lagged unacceptably far behind and ultimately ceased entirely. Users express great interest in such efforts, but fewer bodies are available to actually do the work.
Discussions about a long-term release petered out after some heated
discussion and planning on and off the openSUSE mailing lists in 2009. The
topic was revived by Wolfgang Rosenauer on November 22. Rosenauer suggests that the community take over after Novell drops support at 18 months, and focus on a "a subset of packages which were delivered with the original distribution but the focus might be on server services anyway."
Shortly after, openSUSE Board member Pascal Bleser took up the topic. Bleser concurs that it would be a good thing to have, but "it does bring some technical challenges which require a certain number of committed contributors working on the maintenance." Bleser also suggests that Novell would be opposed to a CentOS-style SLES, which Kroah-Hartman quickly rebutted:
Don't be so sure of this at all. I can't speak for anyone else here, and I am not speaking as Novell at all, but I can tell you that if you wish to [pursue] this option, I will be glad to personally help you if you run into resistance from Novell in any way for this project. It should _not_ be anything that Novell should be resistant to having happen.
The problem is that while many users and even openSUSE developers
want a longer-term support for openSUSE, few, if any, are trying
to make it happen. The discussion on the openSUSE list about an LTS differs
greatly from Kroah-Hartman's Tumbleweed proposal in that no one is stepping
forward to make it happen. Much of the discussion
is of the "we would really like Novell to run with this idea"
variety. Until a sufficiently large group of openSUSE enthusiasts step
forward to do the work, an LTS will likely remain a pleasant idea that goes nowhere.
Tumbleweed, on the other hand, seems to have the enthusiastic support of enough openSUSE contributors to get a full try. It should be interesting to see how the project progresses. If it's successful, openSUSE could become a very popular distribution with many developers and Linux enthusiasts who want to run the most recent stable software without waiting for the next openSUSE release or maintaining a laundry list of Zypper repositories.
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