Opensuse Tumbleweed – a review
I have been using Tumbleweed for almost 6 months. I will soon be installing the beta release of 13.1 on that box, so my days of testing Tumbleweed will come to an end at that time. So I thought this would be a good time to report my experience.
What is Tumbleweed?
Tumbleweed is a project based on the current opensuse release. It differs from the standard release, in that there are frequent updates. For example, there has been a newer kernel almost every week of my testing. And Gnome was updated to version 3.8 fairly early in the release. More recently, KDE was updated to version 4.11.
The idea is for Tumbleweed to provide a kind of rolling release, for those who like to keep up with the latest. Note that this is not to be compared with the “long term stable” release of some other distros. It could perhaps be considered to be “long term unstable”, in that things will change.
It works by adding some additional repos, the opensuse Tumbleweed repo and the Packman Tumbleweed repo. For full details, see the “Portal:Tumbleweed” wiki page. Periodically, you must run the command
# zypper dup
which does a “distribution upgrade” to what is currently given in the repos. You are mainly using the standard repos for the current release, but with the additional tumbleweed repos. Newer software in the tumbleweed repos will then be installed, bring you updates.
How well does it work?
Overall, it has seemed to work pretty well for what it claims to do. I had a little problem early on. Apparently some of the newer software in the tumbleweed repos had a lower version number than the older software in the repos for the current release. This resulted in some conflicting packages being installed. Following a suggestion in the factory mailing list, I changed the tumbleweed repos to have priority 98, but left the other repos at the default priority of 99. A lower priority number means a higher priority. That change meant that a “zypper dup” would favor a version in the tumbleweed repos over a version in the standard repos, regardless of the version numbering. Once that change was made everything went smoothly.
The main benefits of Tumbleweed, are that you see newer versions more quickly. If you like to test out newer versions, then you should consider Tumbleweed.
The main disadvantage is that you see newer versions more quickly. If you like a stable environment, then Tumbleweed is not for you. You will also find that you are doing a lot of downloading, due to the updating process. If you have a slow or limited Internet access, then it would be best not to use Tumbleweed.
My personal assessment
My own experience has been that Tumbleweed has been pretty reliable, even with the instability of version changes. However, on reassessment, I think I am not the kind of user to benefit from Tumbleweed, so I probably won’t be using it in the next cycle.
I do like to occasionally test things. But I have been doing that by installing the pre-releases of the upcoming version. And that’s enough experimenting for me. The milestone pre-releases are less frequent than Tumbleweed updates, but they still give me a glimpse of what is coming up.
In retrospect, there were some problems with the first few new kernels that came with Tumbleweed. But I did not notice them, because the problems were small. When I attempted to install 13.1M1 on my UEFI box, the kernel problems were more obvious. Fortunately they have been corrected in later kernels. But this does illustrate why I think I am better off using pre-releases for my testing of what is coming up.
Here are some of the minor annoyances that I had to deal with:
- The newer kernels were not signed, so the would not boot on my UEFI box when secure-boot was enabled. There is a procedure for signing them myself. I found it easier to turn off secure-boot. I later discovered that I could edit “grub.cfg”, changing “linuxefi” to “linux” and “initrdefi” to “initrd” for the newer kernels, as a way of bypassing the kernel signature check.
- I had to repeatedly remove the file “/etc/vimrc”. I prefer to use “vi” (or “vim”) in the tradition way, without the highlighting. So I usually remove “/etc/vimrc”. What I found was that “vim” was being repeatedly reinstalled. I think it was mostly being recompiled because one of its dependencies had changed.
- On a box with NVidia graphics, the NVidia drivers would not compile with the 3.10 kernels. So I had to revert to using the nouveau driver.
Overall, I’ll commend the Tumbleweed maintainers for managing things quite smoothly. The glitches that I mentioned are minor. If you are the kind of user who rushes to try the newest kernel or the newest version of your desktop, then give Tumbleweed a try. If you prefer a little more stability, less frequent change, then Tumbleweed is probably not for you.