At some point in the future historians will be able to look back and pinpoint the exact date when updating your PC went from being a good idea to a bad one. And note that I’m talking here about updating the software on an existing, working computer, not buying a shiny new one off the shelf. Personally I would put the watershed mark around 2008. That was about the time that I tried to update a copy of Windows Vista on a new laptop, only to have all the data implode, and discovered that the laptop didn’t come with any kind of recovery disc. It was a good thing in a way, because it made me commit to Linux for the first time, in the form of Mandriva. But it should have taught me a lesson about updating.
Unfortunately it didn’t, and I have continued to fall for the ‘bigger, better, faster’ myth underlying the urge to update. As a result I have trashed my operating systems several times, requiring many hours of work to restore them; I have somehow lost permissions to legally use perfectly legitimate, paid-for copies of Windows, and replaced many programs and applications that worked perfectly well with others that didn’t. And what for? I don’t think all this updating has gained me one hour of extra free time or one dollar of extra earnings in the long run — although I do make an exception for the excellent programs SKY Index, on which my income depends, and Calibre, my e-book manager. Let me also give honourable mention to WordPress and its many plugins, which — so far — update cleanly, elegantly and nearly always without deleterious side effects. But system upgrades, other than for virus protection, have long since become more trouble than they are worth.
The Linux magazines don’t seem to have grasped this, by the way, and they all — including the new Linux Voice — continue to tell us at great length just how GenericLinux Release 12.312 knocks the socks off Release 12.311. It’s got a different-coloured Menu button! And users in the Arctic Circle with 32-bit systems will no longer get the ‘rude noise’ error notification if they try and paste images into LibreOffice from a website starting with ‘Q’! Hooray! But the days are past when I look forward to a major upgrade with anything more than grim resignation and the prospect of putting aside a weekend’s free time.
Which is why I was initially attracted to Mint Debian. It continues to run, in theory, while it updates itself quietly in the background. It looks, and runs, more or less exactly like the Ubuntu-based Mint with Cinnamon or Mate, and it never needs reinstalling! What’s not to like?
The reality, it seems, is different. Mint Debian is only a ‘semi-rolling’ release, which means that instead of a slow incremental update over time you get Update Packs. And according to the reviews, too many update packs in succession can give the system indigestion, and the only cure is — you guessed it — reinstalling the whole damn thing.
So I’m not about to investigate Mint Debian, though I may install it as the main operating system on my next PC, whenever a need for one arises. Or I might bite the bullet and check out a distro with genuine rolling releases — Manjaro, perhaps, or Sabayon, or PCLinuxOS, which I used with reasonable success a few years back, before its rolling days began. I’m sure it’s a good idea, really. It just has to be done right.