Rolling Rhino: A rolling-release remix of Ubuntu

It may have an official-sounding name but it's a community effort


Rolling Rhino is a new community remix of Ubuntu, but with a unique twist: it has a whole new release model, rather than just a different desktop.

The new remix builds upon a tool of the same name. The Rolling Rhino script converts an installation of one of Ubuntu's daily images into a rolling release by setting it to track the devel branch of the distro. The Rolling Rhino remix simplifies this process somewhat by allowing you to install the distro already configured in the relevant way.

The new flavor is the brainchild of MrBeeBenson and Billy G, building on work by Martin Wimpress, who is the project leader of the Ubuntu MATE remix.

There are several rolling-release distros out there already, of course. Arch Linux recently hit 20 years old, while openSUSE Tumbleweed has been around since 2014. Both are designed and conceived as rolling releases and don't have stable versions. Instead, there are just periodic snapshot releases, so you can jump onto the conveyor belt starting from a fairly recent basis.

Multiple smaller names follow the same model, including both NixOS and Guix, compile-everything-yourself specialist Gentoo, and VoidLinux, which survived its creator walking away from the project.

The alternative, if you know and like a particular period-release distro but want or need more current packages, is to run the work-in-progress version.

Debian, for instance, has two such branches. Debian Unstable (nicknamed "Sid") contains the latest packages uploaded by each individual maintainer.

Once each package hasn't changed in two to 10 days, has built successfully for all Debian's many CPU architectures, and hasn't been found to break anything, it graduates to Debian Testing. This will in time form the next stable release. Currently, that will be Debian 12, "Bookworm".

Running "Sid" is quite popular among fairly hardcore types who can cope if their computer suddenly won't boot as Debian itself has a reputation for being slow-moving and technologically conservative. There have been multiple distros which repackage Sid in a ready-to-use form, including Sidux, Aptosid, and most recently, Siduction.

For those who prefer the Red Hat side of the tracks, there's Fedora Rawhide.

There are several snags with running testing versions of periodic releases, though. The pace of change can be very uneven, speeding up early in the development cycle – meaning frequent breakages – then slowing down as the next version nears release. And since it's a prototype, you won't get much help or support from either the vendor or from third parties.

With Arch and Tumbleweed, everyone is in the same boat, and you will get community help – although the answer may often turn out to be "come back tomorrow, update and try again." Tumbleweed offers the significant bonus of automatically configuring Btrfs snapshots so you can roll back unsuccessful updates and get back to a working system very quickly.

It remains to be seen how reliable Rolling Rhino turns out to be. Ubuntu allows you to install onto ZFS, and it also includes ZFS snapshot support. A rolling release plus ZFS snapshots could be a promising combination. ®


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