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Escaping the upgrade mill

Having updated software in your openSUSE 11.4 (or newer) release is, as you see, not difficult. provides you with a convenient place to find your newer software and thanks to one-click-install you only need to know your root password to install it. Moreover, if you don't just want one newer package but want to upgrade big 'chunks' of your OS, you can add specific KDE, GNOME, Wine, Firefox or other repositories from the repository page on the openSUSE site. But, despite the powerful Open Build Service building all these packages for your specific openSUSE release, you might end up with a weird Frankenstein-OS if you add too many repositories. openSUSE and the Open Build Service make it so easy to grab newer software that we often see users with well over 30 custom repositories. While Zypper is able to handle such complexity, the risk of stability issues does increase this way.

Introducing Tumbleweed

In the beginning of 2011, well-known kernel hacker and openSUSE contributor Greg Kroah-Hartman announced a new initiative: Tumbleweed. Tumbleweed is a repository for openSUSE, just like all others. However it is also unique in the Linux world. Where some Linux distributions have opted for either (more or less predictable) periodic releases such as every 6 or 8 months, others did not want to let their users wait that long for new software. So some of the more power-user oriented Linux distributions like Gentoo and Arch Linux have opted for rolling releases. A rolling release means that at any time, the latest software is made available to the users. Obviously some testing takes place and unstable software like Alpha or Beta releases usually are not pushed to users – this is what makes these rolling release distributions different from distribution testing places like openSUSE's Factory, Fedora's Rawhide and Debian's Unstable and Testing; those do frequently include unstable software and are not meant nor suited for everyday usage.

So, you usually have a choice. Run a distribution with a stable release cycle, predictable or not – and accept that you'll have to wait over 6 months for new software or risk the potential instability and the work of managing (many) extra repositories. Or take the jump and run a rolling release distro – which is clearly targeted at more advanced users, has less software available in packaged form and doesn't provide stable releases even if you want them.

Have your cake and eat it too!

openSUSE Tumbleweed therefore has a very compelling offer: on top of an easy-to-use, well supported and mainstream Linux operating system, you can have a rolling release. Not only that, Zypper allows you to fall back to the stable release at any time by removing the Tumbleweed repository and doing an upgrade. You can even 'pin' some of the software of your 'stable' release and go for Tumbleweed packages everywhere else. The unprecedented flexibility offered by Tumbleweed gives you some real, tangible benefits:

  • Always the latest stable software
  • Easy fallback to the previous openSUSE release
  • No more upgrading to newer versions as you'll roll towards them

This last point is the coolest part of it all: during the 8 month development cycle of the new openSUSE release, Tumbleweed users not only enjoy the latest stable software but will also not have to care about the new version. Once openSUSE 12.1 is released, Tumbleweed users will already be on their way to the 12.2 release.

So, are you interested?

Getting openSUSE Tumbleweed is easy as proverbial pie. As the Tumbleweed information page will tell you, you only have to execute these commands.

Add Tumbleweed to your YaST or Zypper installation repositories and enable auto-refresh:

zypper ar --refresh Tumbleweed

Do a distro update from Tumbleweed as needed. The first time you will need to accept the GPG key. The following command will do the distro update for your packages, and if any packages are ever reverted from Tumbleweed in the future Zypper dup will also handle that, automatically falling back to your last stable release.

zypper dup

Allow vendor change for Tumbleweed repository. This has to be done in order to get updates for existing packages from Tumbleweed. You can allow vendor updates automatically in the future by creating a file named Tumbleweed.conf in the /etc/zypp/vendors.d/ directory with the following content:

vendors = suse,opensuse,obs://

The only supported method of repository use for Tumbleweed is to have only the main repositories (Oss, Non-oss, and Update) and the Tumbleweed repository active. Of course, there are a number of 'tumbleweed repositories' on the Open Build Service which you can also use. If you want to use Tumbleweed yet have some non-tumbleweed repositories enabled, please read the Tumbleweed information page.

All in all...

Above you have seen two ways of getting new software on your openSUSE release. Either go for the latest Linux 3.0 kernel (or one of the daily-build testing kernels) or go all-out and upgrade to Tumbleweed, openSUSE has got you covered.

Jos Poortvliet Jos Poortvliet is the openSUSE community manager for SUSE Linux and has been a Free Software evangelist for 10 years. In 'offline life' he worked as a Business Consultant. His favourite pastime is experimenting in the kitchen, trying to come up with something edible.

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