OpenSUSE Tumbleweed, Rolling Distribution goes Mainstream

I almost bought an Android phone. I hesitated as will it be upgradable to 2.2 . How about 2.3? It wasn't obvious and I am not in the habit of changing phones even once a year. So, I got me a phone which is just a phone. Upon reflection, all I needed was the ability to receive calls and sms's and, rarely, make some calls. If I couldn't upgrade the software versions, its value as a playground for experimenting with mobile applications was very limited.

Desktop distribution versions can be equally frustrating. For several years, I have felt that while version upgrades may be very useful for proprietary distributions, they are counter-productive for open source options.

For over a year, I have used Arch Linux on a couple of systems using the most recent versions of various applications with no issues and no upgrade hassles. Sadly, the rumours of Ubuntu moving to a rolling distribution turned out to be incorrect -

Rolling distributions are not unknown to mainstream distributions. The OpenSUSE's factory repository or Fedora's rawhide repositories are rolling distributions. The problem with them is that they are unstable.

There have been some implicit assumptions about distributions that

  • anyone wanting a rolling distribution wants to be on the bleeding edge

  • 6 monthly release cycle is a reasonable compromise between the need to be current and the goal of stability.

The release dates are arbitrary. The versions of packages which make it to a particular distribution is an arbitrary decision. It is entirely possible that

  • not all packages within a distribution are stable

  • a stable version of a package is available but is not included in the recent/supported distribution

  • synchronising release cycles with upstream package release cycles is a not workable option

Ubuntu encourages the use of ppa's to be selectively 'rolling' but the mindset remains that of frozen 'stable' distributions.

Hence, it was a pleasant surprise to read that OpenSUSE was releasing Tumbleweed along with the OpenSUSE 11.4 versions. Tumbleweed repository would be a rolling release.

So, what do you need to do to try it.

Moving to Tumbleweed

The machine I was going to install Tumbleweed on was Lenovo S10-3 netbook. I was going to use the Plasma Netbook Workspace, the same as I use with Arch Linux and Fedora on this system. You obviously do not need to stick to a netbook or the KDE desktop.

However, you do need to start with an OpenSUSE 11.4 distribution. There was one distributed with LFY April 2011. Various possibilities are available on I used the KDE-LiveCD.

After installing the 11.4 distribution, you need to follow the steps on Using 'zypper' instead of 'yum' or 'pacman' isn't hard. The key process is:

$ sudo zypper dup --from Tumbleweed

And pretty soon, a number of new packages, e.g. 2.6.38 linux kernel, will replace the versions from 11.4 repositories with the ones available in the Tumbleweed repository.

You may enable additional official repositories as described in You can also add the Packman repository for the additional codecs and applications. I needed it for Miro.

The Tumbleweed repository is built on top of the 11.4 repositories. Only the packages which have changed are present in it. Over time, as more packages deviate from the 11.4 version, they will get incorporated in Tumbleweed. You will have wait and watch what happens when 11.5 is released. Would all the packages be incorporated in Tumbleweed or would you need to replace the 11.4 repositories by 11.5?

Keeping both a rolling distribution and a versioned ones as well seems to add to complexity from the perspectives of both the developers and the users. Hopefully, Tumbleweed will dominate and win!

The problem with packages being in multiple repositories also introduces the complexity of which ones to search for updates. OpenSUSE follows a policy of not permitting 'vendor' change by default while installing updates. Each repository has a vendor code associated with it.

The possibilities and options are described in

In your case, the vendor code for Tumbleweed is different from that of the OpenSUSE official repositories. This meant that

$ sudo zypper up

would not update packages which had been newly added to Tumbleweed. You need to again run

$ sudo zypper dup –from Tumbleweed

A solution was suggested on the mailing list, like the one used by the Evergreen project to extend the life of 11.1 version of OpenSUSE – Create a file tumbleweed in /etc/zypp/vendors.d/ with the following content:


vendors = obs://,suse,opensuse

where obs:// is the vendor code of the Tumbleweed repository. The list of vendors ensures that the specified vendors are treated as one common group. Hence, any new additions to Tumbleweed repository will now be updated without any special effort on your part.

So far using OpenSUSE Tumbleweed has worked well for me. The KDE environment is consistent across Arch Linux, Fedora and OpenSUSE that I have used on the Lenovo Netbook.

The one disappointment has been that while OpenSUSE's Updates repository distributes delta rpm packages, Tumbleweed repository does not. The frequent updates of LibreOffice packages created a barrier to daily updates. I am hoping that the developers will add delta rpms to the Tumbleweed repository as well but, unfortunately, bandwidth issues are not a significant concern in the developed world.

The benefits of Tumbleweed will be clearer as one uses it for at least a year. I expect it to be similar to the Arch Linux experience. Hence, Canterbury Distribution,, the April fool joke this year, may indeed be the one true answer!