Many distributions have what is called a “fixed” release. While they may have several names for it, it is simply a fixed release where several things happen…
First, new packages are uploaded to a new build of the current system, which is released on a fixed date. For example, programs for Ubuntu’s next release, Hardy Heron, includes new applications not found in Ubuntu 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon. Some applications get sent through to the current version through what is called “Backports”, although seemingly less attention is given to this repository in many distributions. The applications that get backported are those found to be stable in a previous version of a system.
Second, new features, more new applications, and some new artwork are added into the system, to give it a nice update that differentiates itself from the previous version, as well as improved usability and a fresh new look. Ubuntu follows this release cycle, with a new version every six months including new applications and features. For all those wondering, currently, the Ubuntu theme changes once every Long Term Support (LTS) release, which comes once every two years.
The next release type is called a “rolling” release. Possibly the best example of this type of release is PCLinuxOS. This release cycle has no real fixed release, but instead new applications are simply uploaded to the system’s repositories. As there are different repositories in Ubuntu (gutsy, hardy, etc.), there is only one version of repositories in PCLinuxOS and other systems that follow the rolling release cycle. Once applications and/or features reach a certain point, a new release is declared, and a download is provided for that current version.
After using several systems that use each, I have come to a better understanding of their actual value. I have learned there are pros and cons to each:
First, the rolling release:
- New applications available as soon as they are uploaded, without needing to upgrade, since you are at the current version (the only version for that matter…)
- New features are also uploaded, so you get the latest-and-greatest.
- Applications are often left untested, so instability is an issue.
- Application dependencies can also be compromised, as I recently found out.
Now for the fixed release:
- Stable releases with fewer compatibility issues.
- New features on a timely and predictable basis, a complete experience.
- You do not always get the latest-and-greatest applications.
- You must do a full upgrade (depending on the system, this isn’t really a bad thing, but it does take a little while.)
There are obviously more pros and cons to each kind of release, although I have listed the main reasons for wanting or not wanting to use one or the other. Personally, I am a fan of the fixed release, as there is planned and organized direction in where a distribution is headed, rather than a random introduction of new applications and features. I have had good results with both kinds of systems, but the fixed release has provided me with the better computing experience.
== Side Note ==
This has nothing to do with releases, but here goes: Some news has arrived that Mandriva had started a lab with Turbolinux, which has signed a deal with Microsoft. This kind of a situation makes me a little nervous while using Mandriva. I’m thinking mainly about patents — will this involve patents? I’m a little confused, as Mandriva’s CEO had some strong words for Microsoft a while back. I just hope things have not changed. Mandriva is a good system… Otherwise it will be Ubuntu, Fedora, PCLinuxOS, and others to lead the way.