openSUSE offers Slowroll distro for those scared by the speed of Tumbleweed

Keep rollin', rollin', rollin', rollin'

The openSUSE project is undergoing changes that, to us at least, indicate a multiplicity of future directions for the code base.

Several openSUSE projects have been updated in fact as the Linux distribution's maker and its user and contributor community figures out where it might head in a more container-oriented future.

One of these developments is the new open source Slowroll distribution. Like the existing openSUSE Tumbleweed, Slowroll is a rolling-release distro, albeit with a much slower release cycle, which is intended to make it more appealing to users who currently run Leap, openSUSE's stable-release distribution.

Slowroll updates over time

Slowroll updates over time

Slowroll is an experimental distro, and that means that it may not stick around. One thing it definitely will not do is replace openSUSE Tumbleweed. That is still in active development and will continue to be; indeed, the most recent news release for Tumbleweed includes significant changes, notably support for systemd-boot, as used in the popular third-party Ubuntu remix Pop!_OS – in which it caused The Reg FOSS desk significant problems a couple of years ago.

For clarity, although systemd-boot is now part of the systemd project, it's not directly part of the systemd init system as such. Before it was assimilated and renamed, it was an independent project called gummiboot, which is German for rubber dinghy. It is an alternative to the GRUB bootloader, and it keeps your distro's kernel and initrd (initial RAMdisk) directly inside your EFI system partition, rather than in the root filesystem as usual.

The openSUSE team has also just announced a beta version 5.5 of Leap Micro, and when that is released, Leap Micro 5.3 will reach its end-of-life. This is the stable-release-cycle variant of openSUSE MicroOS, which like Tumbleweed is has a rolling-release model.

MicroOS is, indirectly, the thing that has prompted Slowroll. Following SUSE's 2020 acquisition of Rancher, the biz has become keen on the idea of immutable distributions running containerized workloads. This is the tech underlying SUSE's still-prototype ALP distro, the corp's planned future enterprise OS.

We've written about the ALP project several times before: it is intended to replace the relatively conventional SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE), and as such, it may supplant openSUSE Leap. As The Reg reported a couple of years ago, Leap is built from the same codebase as SLE. That means that if SUSE does replace SLE, there would no longer be a base from which to make Leap. So, the org is experimenting with alternatives.

Tumbleweed is rather more reliable than some other rolling-release Linux distros; as packages flow into the Factory codebase, they undergo automated testing via SUSE's openQA tool.

As a former SUSE employee, your humble vulture ran Tumbleweed as his daily driver for several years, and aside from issues with Btrfs, found it to be a solid distro. The only problem is that the high volume of updated packages means that the installation requires very frequent updates; skipping updates for a month or two — for instance, due to an inconvenient pandemic — means massive multi-gigabyte updates, which are difficult and can break things.

Thus, what SUSE's Richard Brown described as:

"Slowroll" - a derivative of Tumbleweed, built automatically as much as possible, using automation and metrics to copy packages from Tumbleweed only after certain conditions (max age, X weeks without change, etc). Basically an attempt to provide something less scary than full speed Tumbleweed.

For a detailed examination, LWN has an in-depth discussion, but the summary is that packages will automatically make their way from Tumbleweed into Slowroll only after they have proved to be stable – meaning that there have been no code changes for an interval, and nobody has opened any bugs or issues since the last change. The exception to this would be critical fixes for CVEs or other known exploits.

The problem space represented by very slow-moving enterprise distributions, immutable filesystems, and automatic package management at one extreme, and programmatically-defined distributions such as NixOS and Guix at another, tends to suggest to this vulture that there must be other solutions waiting to be discovered or invented.

This may just be one of them. It's an interesting idea. If it appeals, Slowroll is already available for download. ®

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