Desktop upgrades don't have to suck!

Sometimes when people ask me about image-based desktops they look at their existing setup and say "But it's been running awesome since 2009!".

Since I know how to Linux I can reasonably upgrade a traditional distro like Debian or Ubuntu and be ok. For lots of people, it can go really wrong. In today's world this level of reliability is just not going to work. However, I think there's also a misconception that just because an upgrade worked that everything is just fine.

And that's a problem! Alice, Bob, and Cassidy start with Ubuntu 14.04. They use their computers normally, installing apps, doing the Linux thing. Alice and Bob know what they are doing, and successfully move to 16.04. Cassidy unfortunately read the internet, and has installed PPAs to get dat bling. We all know how that story ends so let's concentrate on Alice and Bob.

Alice's upgrade to 18.04 went great, but Bob has a problem, his touchpad doesn't work right in 18.04 so he does the right thing, reports a bug, and then waits for a fix, however he needs a working computer, so he goes back to 16.04.

Bob started with A, went to B, and then back to A right? Nope, Bob has now made C. This looks a lot like A, and there's a good chance it works and it probably behaves a lot like A did. Eventually the bug gets fixed, and Bob moves to 18.04. Bob is now back on B, on paper anyway. IF HE CAN EVEN GET THERE, usually he can't revert immediately, for most people it's a reinstall. But if it's an app regression you can usually pin something or one of the other unholy incantations required to get back to a workable state. So maybe he drags back the old input system from the working release, or adds a PPA, at this point, Bob is desperate and whatever he needs to do to get it working is on the table.

Fast forward to 22.04, what do we think Bob's system looks like? If you guessed "Nothing like a 22.04 clean install!" or "Frankendebian!", then you'd be right because we've been there. Having mutable sets of packages go through lifecycles like this is painful, and we no longer have time to deal with pets.

But wait Castro, I installed rpmfusion on Fedora Silverblue 35 and then upgraded to 36 and it told me to pound sand. It did, but better to be told no and have a working computer. And of course, all software has bugs, there is always QA and distro work that needs to happen, but we can start off at much better position by removing a ton of mutable entropy on our systems, then we can really find the tough bugs, like you know, the one selinux upgrade that bricked my setup. But hey, we gotta start somewhere!

If three people start on a version of something, and it's three years later and they're all on the same new version, that OS image HAS to be the same, all the variation on those computers should be all user data, not the core operating system. It HAS to be as close to a guarantee as you can make it, and we can certainly do a better job than we have been over the past 20 years.  

If you're thinking "But backups, snapshots and stuff, Bob should have done his due diligence!", we're agreeing on the same thing, it just needs to be baked into the OS and part of the model, and let's be realistic, Bob ain't backing up anything.

And for those Arch users in the back of the concert with crossed arms with the "My distro is better" attitude, remember that the Steam Deck is taking your distro and slapping on that extra seat belt, and as it matures you're going to want to demand that level of reliability from your desktop too!

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