Information Technology

Distro Rot

Few things are more annoying in the computer world than trying to keep current on software features while maintaining a stable desktop. It doesn’t matter what OS you are running. Decades ago when I had to maintain a Windows partition because one client wanted me to do testing on it I went through the back-and-forth with Acronis and several other vendors. The Microsoft libraries they were using for development weren’t compatible with the versions which had to be installed for some other thing. Each and every time I got an update it busted my automatic backup and I had to have a differently linked executable sent to me. Built in automatic update feature was a true joy.


Lately the Linux world has been hurting big time. Evolution is by far the best all around email client and PIM. For people moving from that icky nasty Windows platform, Evolution is very much like Microsoft Outlook. That said, Evolution is buggy as all Hell. The “stable” versions chosen for Long Term Support (LTS) releases of Ubuntu and other distros are sooooo far behind the community supported versions it isn’t funny. Adding insult to injury the Evolution development community puts on a dramatic set of blinders when it comes to development and testing. It appears the only thing they actually test with is the version of Gnome they choose to like. This may or may not be the current flavor of Gnome. This pretty much means the KDE and other desktop users are left either hanging or installing the bulk of that version of Gnome in order to use it.


Putting this in perspective for you: 3.2.3 is the version shipping with Mint 13/Ubuntu 12.04: Current stable and supported version according to package Web site is 3.8.5 while the current development version is 3.9.92. If your email is hosted on an Exchange Web Service, you need the current EWS to make things work well. Things aren’t going to improve here because the boys and girls at Ubuntu chose to make Thunderbird their standard mail package which defies all logic.


LibreOffice is another package which tends to kick one in the groin at regular intervals. If some fool sends you a .docx file you most likely need the latest version of LO to open it, especially if you have to save it and return it to them. Earlier versions would let you open, edit, and save, but when you sent it back to the MS user the file would appear “corrupted” to them. You could open and edit it as many times as you liked, but they could never touch it again.


Oh, I’m not picking on LO here. Choose your favorite Linux based word processor and the story will be the same. The LTS releases tend to lock you in the past and the “rolling” releases only seem to roll in new kernel and core OS updates, not regular package updates. In particular they need to roll in tested updates for all email, office/word processor, and browsers included in the repositories. This currently doesn’t happen.


What most users are forced to do is take the time and the chance of wiping and installing a new release. This is fine for the home hobbyist, but for people who actually need their desktop for something other than porn it’s a big dice toss. Besides being the best email client on Linux, Evolution has a built in backup and restore. When you first start Evolution after a fresh install it will ask you if you want to restore from a backup. This will restore everything except your passwords. Firefox stumbles a bit. You can export or backup your bookmarks, but you cannot backup your Firefox settings complete with site username and password information. That is a major hassle, especially if you are a good little geek using a different account name and/or password for every site. After six plus months of not typing account information in a person tends to forget.


A person can “kind of” copy their documents directory, the visible files in their home directory, and their Downloads directory off to a USB drive, wipe, fresh install and restore/import in under an hour. I qualify that because you usually get burned. For Mint 14 and 15 (and I suspect other distros as well) Evolution hasn’t worked with KDE or non-gnome desktops. Evolution does work great in the current release of OS/4, however the XFCE does not support multiple monitors if you want any configuration other than the leftmost monitor as the primary desktop and the bug has been there for quite some time. I really feel sorry for people who made a complete switch to Lotus Symphony from IBM. It had amazing promise when it first came out but now is basically abandoned. The supported Ubuntu version is 8.0.4 and the SuSE version is 10 at least according to the official IBM site and the Ubuntu 12.04 users claiming it won’t install.


So, will there ever be a real “rolling distro” which updates the kernel and the major packages on a regular basis?