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The words ‘bleeding edge’ suggest considerable risk. But a system that’s always improving and updating has its benefits. You might see gains in speed, along with security, for example. If you like that sort of thing (and are willing to take a bit of a risk), here are a few Linux operating systems you might want to try.
1. Debian Sid
The choice might be surprising, considering Debian’s reputation of being the opposite of bleeding edge. And for good reason. The most used of their releases, Debian Stable, tries to refine packaged software, fixing any bugs in the process. While this means that you’ll generally have a nice experience, it’s not exactly up to date.
To do this, Debian makes use of two other branches of software, with different levels of stability. The first is called Testing. The packages inside it are frozen on a schedule, to become the next stable version of Debian. The next is called Sid, or Unstable. As its name suggests, software inside it is always updated.
Despite its name, Debian Sid is still quite reliable. The main difference is that much of its stability comes from upstream instead. For example, instead of Sid fixing any bugs with Firefox, it will rely on Mozilla rolling out these improvements. Contrast this with Testing or Stable, where packages are further refined by the Debian team.
Installing Sid takes a bit of package manager know-how. Debian doesn’t really supply an actual install disc for it. Instead, you need to upgrade your currently running system, ideally from Debian Testing, to make the process smoother. That way, you’ll have to update less things than Stable.
If you enjoy the experience Debian provides, but want your whole system to be bleeding edge, Sid is your best choice.
2. OpenSUSE Tumbleweed
If you like how flexible yet user friendly OpenSUSE is, but also enjoy the benefits of newer software, Tumbleweed might be for you. This operating system is one of the few types which can truly be considered rolling release, while also being easy to use.
This version of OpenSUSE has some interesting origins. A little while back, there were three versions of the operating system: Stable, Tumbleweed, and Factory. The last two merged into Tumbleweed, resulting in its current appearance. The Factory “release” of OpenSUSE is now a development test bed for Tumbleweed.
Unlike Debian Sid, Tumbleweed appears to have more official support. At the very least, there’s a proper installation disc for it compared to Debian Sid. And as noted, there seems to be some sort of testing done on Factory before pushing changes to Tumbleweed. As such, it’s possible that it’s also more stable than the usual bleeding edge releases.
Despite this, the operating system is clearly very up to date, and in some edge cases, even more so than Debian Unstable. For example, while Debian currently uses Libreoffice 5.2, OpenSUSE has the latest 5.3 version.
Another thing this distribution is known for is its excellent support for the Plasma desktop. Combined with the bleeding edge nature of Tumbleweed, it’s a great way of experiencing the best KDE has to offer. An even more up to date version KDE Neon, so to speak.
3. Fedora Rawhide
OpenSUSE and Fedora can be described as two sides of the same coin in many ways. They’re supported by competing companies, SUSE and Red Hat respectively. It’s fitting then, that they both have a bleeding edge version of their operating systems.
For Fedora, this release is called Rawhide. It’s designed around testing new software, both for fixing bugs and users who enjoy using the latest and greatest. Packages are continuously updated every day, with new versions of programs rolled out very quickly.
This doesn’t mean that Rawhide is unusable though. One of their goals is to provide software that is currently available — they won’t release programs still in beta, for example. Basically, if you want to take advantage of new features introduced in newer versions of programs, consider Fedora Rawhide.
Similar to OpenSUSE and its KDE desktop, Fedora is also known for its top-notch GNOME desktop. If you’re a fan of it, Rawhide would be an excellent way of testing the newest things GNOME has to offer. For example, GNOME 3.24 has a built-in alternative to Redshift, a tool made to help you sleep better while on the computer at night.
If you’re invested in the GNOME desktop and want to walk on the bleeding edge, Rawhide is a great option.
4. Gentoo Unstable
While Gentoo is indeed rolling release, by default it’s actually quite stable. It focuses more on flexibility rather than the bleeding edge. This is because most programs are compiled on Gentoo rather than downloaded outright. The operating system has a stable and unstable release system, with the latter option disabled by default.
This operating system is definitely not for people unfamiliar with Linux though. A lot of installing Gentoo comes takes a lot of manual work. There is a reason why it’s achieved a reputation for being difficult to use. Along with this, since many programs need compiling, a lot of time can be burnt updating them.
There are certainly benefits to this model however. By compiling most of your software, Gentoo lets you trim your system down further than many operating systems in a more convenient way. You can strip programs of unwanted features, for example. This might also yield potential speed gains.
It’s also easy for Gentoo to mix and match between stable and unstable packages. This means that you can choose what parts of your system you want to be on the bleeding edge. Compare this to Fedora, for example, where mixing Rawhide and stable versions of programs is not recommended.
If you’re willing to take some time to learn and compile your software, Gentoo might be for you. Alternatively, you could try something that makes it easier to install, such as Sabayon.
5. Arch Linux (and Derivatives)
Similar to Gentoo, Arch Linux is known for being a little hard to install. The Arch disc image is just a terminal with a few tools to get you started! On the bright side, along with OpenSUSE, it comes bleeding edge by default. Arch strives to keep programs as modern as possible without breaking things. There are some other interesting values which it follows as well.
Arch’s philosophy of giving responsibility to the user for managing system administration means that users are required to do a little more to their operating system than other alternatives. For example, on Debian, program services are started up automatically. In Arch, they need to be enabled manually.
There are two streams of package releases: stable and testing. You can expect the stable programs to be about as updated as any of the other choices above. For those even more adventurous though, the testing repositories await.
Arch Linux is also home to something called the Arch User Repository. Basically, it’s a huge collection of programs that make installing software not inside official Arch sources quick and easy. There are many packages that live on the bleeding edge there.
If you enjoy manual control over your own system, as well as the benefits of new software, Arch is a viable option. Alternately, if you want it without the fuss, you could always go for Arch-based operating systems such as Manjaro.
Handle With Care
Of course, there are always risks, using an operating system that by design is always changing. As such, it’s important to take some precautions. It’s good practice to back up your hard disk drive just in case something goes wrong, for example.
What are your experiences with Linux operating systems on the bleeding edge? Do you prefer more stable alternatives? Why or why not?