Breaking: openSUSE Factory becomes independent rolling release distribution

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The development version of openSUSE (called Factory) has become an independent distribution using the ‘rolling release’ development model similar to that of Arch Linux.

This means Factory is no longer just the ‘test-bed’ for enthusiasts but can now also be used by those who want bleeding edge packages and software – something Arch community can boast of. But the success of Arch is largely due to its amazing community which not only maintains one of the best wikis on the planet Earth but also create and offer packages even ‘before’ (I am exaggerating) they are publicly released.

What about Tumbleweed?

openSUSE had primarily three releases – openSUSE stable which is released on regular schedule, Tumblweed and Factory.

“The new Factory is not here to replace Tumbleweed,” Ludwig Nussel told me. “Both rolling distributions accomplish different goals. The Tumbleweed initiative provides rolling updates of selected packages (~10% of the packages in Factory) on top of the most recent openSUSE released version. Tumbleweed therefore always has openSUSE releases as base. Factory on the other hand is a full rolling distribution where all packages, even core ones are continuously updated and rebuilt.”

Tumblweed is maintained by the star Linux kernel developer Greg-KH. However, even Greg is not using it on his main machine any more.

He says, “Ideally, Tumbleweed will die with the use of Factory in its place. Factory is a great goal, and one that I really want to see happen, as it fits into my working model (constantly updating stable distro), but from what I have been told, it’s just not quite there yet.”

So what is Factory now?

Factory has become more important than every before, not only for the openSUSE releases but also for the developers and users. One problem that plagues Factor is ‘breaking’. Factory is ‘broken’, you can’t rely on it; it’s not the same thing as Arch Linux. But that’s going to change now. The openSUSE team are working towards offering a better testing model to make it more stable and usable.

Ludwig says, “With the new development model that includes staging projects and openQA we expect less breakages of the base system. One of the goals of the new development is to prevent changes in core system components from e.g. rendering the system unbootable. If such a breaking change gets submitted openQA would catch it in the staging project already and never allow it into Factory.”

That doesn’t mean Factory will be rock-solid as is Debian, it is a rolling release so just like any other bleeding edge rolling release, including Arch, it can’t be assumed to be fully stable. It’s meant for those users who want to use latest packages and one price that we pay for using such packages is a bit of un-guaranteed stability, as we grab package as soon as they are released and like any software whether it be iOS or Windows, new versions often have bugs which may make a system unstable.

The Factory page clearly states, “There is constant flow of packages going into Factory. There is no freeze, therefore the Factory repository is not guaranteed to be fully stable. The core system packages receive automated testing via openQA. When automated testing is completed and the repo is in a consistent state the repo is synced to the download mirrors. That usually happens once or twice a week.”

So don’t use Factory if you use your system for critical work which may suffer due to some ‘downtime’. The fact is I use Arch on one of my main systems and I rarely get into serious trouble, but then I live at bleeding edge and I always have an stable openSUSE system on second machine.

Rolling releases need great community

One factor that made Arch Linux such as huge success is the dedicated community behind it. They not only have one of the best wikis, as I said above, but also have one of the biggest repositories of software via AUR (Arch User Repository).

openSUSE is also known for its OBS which helps developers in creating packages not only for openSUSE but also for competing distros like Ubuntu. Getting 3rd party packages won’t be as difficult for openSUSE users as it could be for other distros, but it means better engagement with the community.

Community will be critical for the success of openSUSE Factory. openSUSE may not be able to compete with Arch when it comes to packages, but its OBS is a magical tool and place where you can find almost everything. It’s much more easier to use than Ubuntu’s PPAs.

OBS is all about community, and the new chairman of openSUSE Board Richard Brown seems to agree, “Of course! The change to this new model is part of that engagement – having Factory as a rolling release means our work throughout the year gets into the hands of users quicker. We hope this will lead to more feedback, faster, as more of our community work on this new platform. It’s only through everyone’s ideas, thoughts, and contributions that Factory will fulfil it’s exciting potential as a rolling release.”

openSUSE has a great (an extremely friendly) community so moving to a rolling-release based model will send a wave of excitement among the users and developers.

Helping openSUSE releases

The rolling release model will also help the releases of openSUSE. According to an openSUSE press release, “The Factory rolling release model will shorten the stabilization process in openSUSE releases and eliminate the need for pre-releases or “milestones.” In the old openSUSE development model, an army of packagers would shoot new packages and updates to a playground called Factory, with a relatively small team taking care of the integration process of all those packages, which sometimes took a long time to stabilize and release. The new Factory model balances responsibility among packagers, testers and end users while putting more emphasis on automated quality assurance. As a result, openSUSE Factory becomes a reliable, always-ready working distribution.”

“With this new openSUSE development model, users get the latest free software packages without waiting for the next release,” said Richard Brown, openSUSE board chair. “With a daily fresh Factory distribution making it easier for those who want to preview and test, we hope to see more users and contributors, leading to faster fixes and even higher quality. Factory is critical as it provides the base technology for openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise, which is used by tens of thousands of organizations around the world.”

openSUSE already offers a rolling-release like experience for KDE Plasma users via their current repository, which is an extremely positive move for Plasma users like me. I use it on my system and it’s extremely stable (that fact is post 4.4 release of KDE SC, most KDE-based distros including Kubuntu and Linux Mint are stable).

How to get Factory?

It’s very easy to get Factory, just download the latest snapshot from this link and create a bootable USB using dd command. If you want to upgrade your system to Factory then follow steps from this page.

First you need to remove old repos:

mkdir /etc/zypp/repos.d/old
mv /etc/zypp/repos.d/*.repo /etc/zypp/repos.d/old

Then add new repos:

zypper ar -f -c http://download.opensuse.org/factory/repo/oss repo-oss
zypper ar -f -c http://download.opensuse.org/factory/repo/non-oss repo-non-oss
zypper ar -f -c http://download.opensuse.org/factory/repo/debug repo-debug

Once done, upgrade the system using this command:

zypper dup

Now you should be running openSUSE Factory. If you are a Factory user, you should subscribe to the mailing list as well as join their G+ community so not only you remain updated with what’s going on, but can also ask question or contribute to making it better.

Swapnil Bhartiya
A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005. You can follow him on LinkedIn , Google+, Twitter and Facebook.