Any software development can be classified into two broad models, including Standard Point release, and other the Rolling release. Linux distributions development also use one of these development cycles. Before heading to rolling release, let me quickly brief about the standard point release model, so that you can decide which one is for you. Both the development models have their own Pros and Cons.
Standard Point Release Development
Standard point release has been there for a while, and mostly seen in majority of software development models. In this system, software versions are made that must be reinstalled over the previous version. A point release is typically referred to a minor release of a software project, especially targeted for bug fixes and house cleaning. A major release is issued for adding new significant features. For example, consider Android development, Android 7.0 is Nougat which is major release from Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Android 7.1 Nougat is a minor point release, followed by Android 8.0 Oreo major release and Android 8.1 Oreo point release.
It is imperative to know that there will be “End of Life” (commonly abbreviated as EOL) for each version in this development model, after which the dev team will no longer release updates. No updates implies open security holes, and compatibility issues with latest hardware. Several major Linux distributions follow this system, including Ubuntu, Linux Mint, elementary OS, Fedora, etc..
Rolling Release Development
In the Rolling release development model, updates are released continuously, and so there is no such thing like version minor release or major release. The updates are released frequently (varies from distribution to distribution) across all areas of the operating system, including the Linux kernel, the desktop environment, and all applications. This implies the operating system is always up-to-date and doesn’t have end of life as long as the distribution itself is maintained. Linux distributions often release what is called as a snap shot, which is an ISO image containing updates at that particular day.
Arch Linux, Solus, OpenSUSE, Manjaro, PCLinuxOS, Debian, Antergos, Gentoo are some of popular rolling Linux distributions.
Which one is best for you?
So, which is the best Linux distribution model? The answer can’t be generalized to everyone. The difference between these two distribution models is the stability, convenience, hardware support, and new features.
If you have a old computer whose hardware is recognized and supported by the distribution you want to use, then point release is for you. That way, you can make sure that your PC will never land in trouble due to hardware compatibility. I would like to stress it again, a Rolling release will have major updates including Linux Kernel and hardware drivers pushed via updates, therefore for a old computer this may be too much. Not just old PCs, some new PCs too may do wonderfully good on a distro, but not handled by other distro properly. That’s when you need to stick to Point release as well. One more reason to stay with Point release distro is when you want to preserve the customization, look & feel, themes that you applied, and don’t wish to see it changing again and again.
On the other hand, Rolling distribution is the way to go if you have a modern PC and don’t mind changes to look & feel, menus, etc., which are typically updated in a rolling distro every 6 months or so. The biggest advantage of Rolling distribution is you always get the latest technologies faster than point release model.
Editor’s Final Note:
In a nutshell, Rolling distro is for latest and greatest updates, while fixed release distro is for a stable and reliable system.