One of the most common issues I see among newer Linux users is the desire to upgrade their distribution needlessly to a new bleeding-edge version. This is especially true with those who use Ubuntu and its derivatives. In this article, I’ll explain why most people would be much better off sticking to stable distribution releases that have been "in the wild" for six months or longer.
If It’s Not Broke, Don’t Fix It
I’ll be among the first to toss a brand spanking new release of my favorite distro onto a test rig. It’s fun getting to see what’s new. But to do this blindly with a production box is just asking for trouble. To be fair, I’ve had perhaps three show-stopping issues with Ubuntu-based derivatives – ever. By show-stopping, I mean issues that nothing I did provided me with a workaround solution to a serious bug.
I’ve had oodles of minor issues that were fixable but also proved to be a time suck when stacked on top of one another. Ten minutes here, twenty minutes there — after a while I found that using bleeding-edge releases wasn’t really where I wanted to spend my time. To be clear, these issues were incredibly minor, and for most folks would be annoying at most. But I have a desktop experience I like and changes to it bother me deeply.
This also meant that "rolling release" distros weren’t a good fit for my desktop expectations either. Unlike fixed releases, rolling releases have both bug fixes and new bugs with greater speed and frequency because updates happen more often. These issues aren’t insurmountable, but making "minor tweaks" every few days wasn’t a great match for my desktop needs.
The bigger takeaway here is this: if your current setup is working great, stick with it. So long as security updates and packages are supported for the release you’re using, you may be happier sticking with it. This is also why I advocate virtual machines, live USB testing and secondary PCs for trying out the latest and greatest. This allows you to try stuff out without jumping in head first on your daily production rig.
So who should upgrade to the latest release of Ubuntu and its derivatives? Certainly not most people in my opinion. Unless you purchasing bleeding-edge hardware on a regular basis or find a bug in a desktop environment that is fixed in a newer release, most people should stick to what’s currently working.
To be completely clear – do try out the latest and greatest, but don’t do so on a production PC. For me, it’s simply a matter of how I want to spend my free time: Restore a previous distribution release or hang out with friends and family?
As a side note, one could argue that taking a snapshot of one’s current setup would allow them to have their cake and eat it too. I’d argue that would require one to take said snapshot accurately or configure their system to do so automatically…with a degree of accuracy. For many folks, this would be a leap of faith.
Rethink Your Desktop Environment
Over the years I’ve found that XFCE and GNOME 2 (now MATE ) have provided me with the most bulletproof user experience. This has allowed me to stick with a Ubuntu LTS derivative longer because I’m not looking to "fix" desktop environment bugs that one might define as show-stopping.
I honestly can’t say the same of other desktop environments. I completely agree that KDE and GNOME 3 are very attractive, feature-rich desktop environments. However, I’ve also found over the years that they’re hit and miss in terms of issues that bother me. A bug here, a broken extension there. Sure, they are fixed a few months later, but they disrupt my expectation of how my desktop should function.
Now to be fair, I’ve had very positive KDE experiences with OpenSuSE Leap and PCLinuxOS . This makes sense as both of these distributions focus on stability. By contrast, KDE on bleeding-edge distros tends to be where I’ve experienced my hit-or-miss moments. Same with GNOME 3 – using it on a stable branch of Debian feels great, but using it on a freshly released distribution leaves me open to the common issue of "GNOME extension catch up." This is a fun game where you install GNOME 3 and see which extensions have been disabled or broken with the desktop update. Again, some of you won’t care – others like myself depend on many of those extensions for a fluid desktop experience. The single worst offender with broken extensions after upgrading to a new release was Linux Mint with Cinnamon .