PureOS is a 'Rolling Release' distro, is it a good idea since it's meant to be beginner-friendly?

A Rolling Release Cycle
A rolling release cycle dispenses with regular, standard Linux distribution releases. For example, Arch Linux uses a rolling release cycle. There aren’t multiple different releases of Arch. Instead, there’s just a single version of Arch. Software packages are tested and then released immediately to the stable version of the Linux distribution. Depending on your distribution, they may not even see much testing before they’re released as stable updates. When a new version of an application or system utility is released, it will head straight to the current Linux distribution. A rolling release distribution is never “frozen in time” — instead, it’s updated on a rolling basis.

A Standard Release Cycle

Most Linux distributions use standard release cycles. For example, Ubuntu uses standard releases — these may also be called point releases or stable releases. The Ubuntu project regularly release new versions of Ubuntu every six months. During the six-month development process, they take the latest versions of all the software in their repositories and package it up, updating all the software. They then “freeze” the versions of the software in the Ubuntu repositories and spend a few months testing it, making sure all the software versions work well together and fixing bugs.

source: https://www.howtogeek.com/192939/linux-distribution-basics-rolling-releases-vs.-standard-releases/

edit: @Caliga and other users suggested a great idea! To have more channels and let the user choose for himself how often and how reliable he wants the updates he will receive to be, while keeping PureOS a Rolling Release distro. An example of 3 different channels: 'unstable’, ‘testing’ and ‘stable’.


How does the method in which PureOS is developed affect its beginner-friendliness?

On the other hand being a rolling release means that Purism is able to improve it quickly and incrementally.

How does the method in which PureOS is developed affect its beginner-friendliness?

Rolling Release - usually means there’s a huge chance that some updates will breake the whole system since they are not thoroughly tested. And I believe it’s important for the GNU/Linux newcomers to have a stable OS in the first place and then everything else. A newcomer doesn’t know how to debug things. If he gets tired fixing his GNU/Linux computer - he’ll just switch to Windows, that “at least works”.


While I’m not a 100% sure, those problems seem small for the ability to incrementally improve PureOS. The ability to update quickly means if something is broke they can simply roll it back in another update.


It’s a legitimate question, and I also think Purism kind of has to consider a stable branch in the long run, if they really want to appeal to average users.

For almost a decade, I was on (K)ubuntu. Updates are always smooth, never had any problem, never had to manually adjust anything. That is because all updates usually just replace existing packages, don’t add new ones, don’t rename packages, don’t change dependencies. No conflicts are to be expected. The changes themselves are usually very small and well tested.

With PureOS I became very hesitant to blindly install updates. Not because they are buggy, but because sometimes conflicts are not resolved to my liking automatically, and packages would then be removed unexpectedly. Also, of course, updates are sometimes “big”, like a new KDE, with a completely new login screen, lost personalization and stuff. For me, it’s way to much change on a system which I want to “just work”. Needless to say I could never have my parents use PureOS, for precisely this reason.


I can see your points and it’s a solid argument. I just think that development practices have moved to agile development because it simply gets stuff done faster.

So I guess the question is, stable now, or perfection sooner?

It’s not about this vs. that. Canonical has to support up to 4 (3x LTS + latest) releases at the same time. This illustrates well why Purism is not doing it currently.
It is natural to do the ongoing development on a RR distro. Debian does that with testing, which is the base of PureOS. But every now and then, a copy of testing becomes “stable”, (currently Debian 9) and is updated less frequently.

I wish they’d do that too with PureOS. I would even be okay with it being less “stable” than upstream. For example, updating the kernel and GLIBC should never break, but improves things. A leading kernel maintainer even argues that being on the latest kernel is the best choice. Updating key applications (LibreOffice, PureBrowser, Gimp, …) would also not hurt. They could even still update a handful of packages that closely relate to the work/focus of Purism, like the energy management on the Librem laptops. You would then end up with a reasonable amount of updates, say 20 a month. But not the hundreds you currently see.

You have to keep in mind that many of the “testing” updates you receive have little (fix typo in documentation file, add a new icon, fix Chinese translation) to no (fix compiler warning, add support for aarch64, split package a in aUI and aData) immediate effect on your everyday work. If something changed, version is bumped and you get it. No matter if it improves anything for you.

I’m not a beginner, and the instability of PureOS is maddening at times. I bought my Librem 15v3 in March 2018 and quickly experienced many system freezes. Those have become less frequent, but on 20 October I got a total GUI freeze when simply trying to start the Kate editor. As soon as I clicked on the icon, Wayland froze. I was logged in under GNOME on Wayland and had quite a few applications running with open files. I tried several keyboard shortcuts, but “Alt+fn+Sys Rq” is the one that dropped me to a text login. So all my applications were killed. Fortunately, decades ago I learned to “save early and often”, which I am sad to say is vital with PureOS because it’s so unstable.

From what I’ve read, Wayland - and making everything else work with Wayland - is one of the main problems, which is why Ubuntu dropped Wayland and switched back to Xorg for Ubuntu 18.04. So when an application gets updated and then crashes under Wayland, I can just re-log in under GNOME on Xorg. But that’s not always enough. Nautilus is again buggy (crashes when entering search terms), so I installed Thunar, but it crashes in a certain instance. When I logged in under GNOME on Xorg to get a stable file manager, I discovered that gedit used 200% CPU, turned on my fan, and became so sluggish I could barely type. I thought, man, this is the file manager and the default text editor. If those don’t work, you don’t have a usable OS. And then I started thinking, man, give me Ubuntu. It doesn’t hang. It doesn’t crash. It’s rock solid. I can recommend it to someone and know that it will work. I can’t say that for PureOS at the moment, and that’s a disappointment because I believe in the Purism mission. And now we’re going to have an unstable phone, where you might not have another computer handy if your phone crashes?

If all you’re doing is using the command line, you’re not going to run into as many bugs as a user who uses a lot of different applications, so a variety of users are needed for more thorough testing. Possibly because of a low number of users, the testing period is obviously not long enough for these bugs to be discovered before they arrive in PureOS (or Debian testing/buster). So we the users run into these bugs, which is fine if you’re running a beta OS, but is an issue if that’s not what you really want to do all the time. Maybe the thing to do is double or triple the testing time before packages appear in PureOS (or Debian testing/buster).

When I see package numbers like +b1 or +b2, I understand that I’m running a beta OS. It’s fine to have another machine or virtual machine for testing, but I don’t think it’s wise to be using a beta OS for a production machine.

With appimage, flatpak, and snap, the latest versions of applications can be installed even if they’re not available in a less current, but more stable, repository. I’ve had to do that myself for PureOS with several, like GnuCash, GIMP, Krita, and Firefox. I have to admit now that I need stability far more than the latest whiz-bang OS features - at least on my trusted main machine.

All this brings me to two questions?

  1. What are our OS options with a Purism computer?
  2. What will not work if I decide to remove PureOS and install something more stable, such as stock Debian Stable (Stretch)?



I’m personally a big fan of how Manjaro handles stability on their end as a rolling distro and found that it works quite well. They have ‘unstable’, ‘testing’ and ‘stable’ repos.

Unstable is for pulling packages from Arch Stable and introducing new kernels or Manjaro’s own packages/kernels. Testing is just like it sounds and Stable is the same. There is usually a week or two turn around between Stable updates and sooner for imminent security updates being hurried through to Stable.

They usually do their updates in batches as can been seen in their Announcement Page which helps with testing. All in all I find it has the best balance between being up to date and stability.

So something like that might be worth looking into. Also, does Purism use Build Service Tools from OpenSUSE to automate build tests and things like that?

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@Spacesurfer, having ‘unstable’, ‘testing’ and ‘stable’ repos is a great idea. I’d love to have a more stable system.

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There are many stable rolling release distros (most notably Manjaro).

I don’t use PureOS, but if it is as unstable as people suggest here don’t be so quick to conclude that it’s because of the rolling release model, it could also simply be because Debian testing which is based on is not considered stable (hence the word testing) and Purism doesn’t have the resources or experience or whatever to make it reliable.

I can’t confirm this. I am running PureOS for around half a year and had 2 freezes up to now. Yes, it has quite often updates but I don’t dislike this RR approach.

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This is a very good question that deserves a clear answer by Purism. I just didn’t like the looks of PureOS so I wiped the drive and installed Linux Mint that I’m used to on my desktop. I only user my Librem 15 for travel, so not that often, but I haven’t had any problems. What exactly does PureOS bring that makes Purism not want to go with something more stable or mainstream?

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I don’t think this is a general GNU problem. I think that what you need tweeking is the video card configuration. Of course an end user should not be asked to do that. So better than 3 versions of the same system to maintain, the best is to make an easy interface to tweek video configurations. This is not easy with a suboptimal video driver. So what we really need is more people that learn to reverse engineer hardware.
Using suboptimal drivers is not good. But it is better than giving up your freedom.

I’m using a Purism Librem 15v3, so I expect any hardware issues to be handled by Purism. They’re selling the hardware with PureOS installed.

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It is not so binary. I am not a Purism customer. Nevertheless, I think they provide the best that freedom can offer. Perhaps they could do better. But I do not know anyone better. Hardware drivers are not so easy to reverse engineer. And video is the most primitive regarding freedom. It is not a problem of Purism or freedom, but of video.
I think that it can be solved by acting as a partner with Purism. It is not a customer rights’ issue. I am so happy that there exist Purism and that Purism customers as you support them. Maybe a solution would be to complain to the factories that produce the hardware that Purism integrates.