5 Linux Operating Systems That Offer Bleeding Edge Updates


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 and security, for example. If you like that sort of thing (and are willing to take a bit of a risk), here are five of the most bleeding edge Linux distros for you to try.

1. Debian Sid

The choice might be surprising, considering Debian’s reputation of being the opposite of bleeding edge Linux. And for good reason. Debian Stable, the standard version of Debian, provides users with time-tested software containing relatively few bugs. While this means that you’ll generally have a nice experience, your software won’t be up-to-date.

To test and refine all this code, 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 and set to become the next stable version of Debian. The next is called Sid, or Unstable. Sid is a rolling release version of Debian that continuously receives the latest software.

Sid is bleeding edge Debian, without sacrificing much of what Debian great.

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 Debian fixing any bugs for the version of Firefox in Sid, the community relies on Mozilla rolling out these improvements. Contrast this with Testing or Stable, where the Debian team has further refined the packages.

Installing Sid takes a bit of package manager know-how. Debian doesn’t really supply an actual install image 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 fewer things than upgrading from Debian 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 the flexibility and user-friendliness of openSUSE but enjoy the benefits of newer software, Tumbleweed might be for you. Tumbleweed is one of the easiest bleeding edge rolling release distributions to get up and running.

There are two versions of openSUSE: Leap and Tumbleweed. Leap is the stable version that shares a base with SUSE Linux Enterprise. Software in Leap “leaps” forward roughly once a year. In contrast, new software updates tumble along in Tumbleweed continuously.

Unlike Debian Sid, openSUSE positions Tumbleweed as more of an alternate way to enjoy openSUSE rather than an unstable experience for more adventurous users. There’s a proper installation image so that you can install this bleeding edge desktop directly, as simply as you would a distro like Ubuntu and Fedora.

openSUSE has a few peculiarities that further distinguish it from other options. The distro uses YaST, a one-size-fits-all tool for system administration and configuration. Also, openSUSE doesn’t shy away from including a bunch of pre-installed software.

openSUSE is known for is its excellent support for the Plasma desktop. That’s something for KDE fans to keep in mind. Tumbleweed can be an alternative to KDE Neon whose software is even more up-to-date.

3. Fedora Rawhide

openSUSE and Fedora share some key similarities. They’re supported by competing enterprise-oriented companies, SUSE and Red Hat respectively. They’re also the two largest distros to use the RPM package format. So it’s fitting that both have a bleeding edge version of their operating systems.

For Fedora, this cutting edge version is called Rawhide. Rawhide is the place for testing new software, both for fixing bugs and getting an early look at the latest code. Packages receive steady updates, with new versions of programs rolling out very quickly.

This doesn’t mean that Rawhide is unusable. One of Fedora’s practices is to provide stable versions of software (as in they won’t release programs still in beta). That means all of the code comes from upstream developers intended for everyday use.

Similar to openSUSE and the KDE Plasma desktop, Fedora is known for its top-notch GNOME implementation. If you’re a fan of GNOME, Rawhide is a way to see the newest changes in GNOME.

4. Gentoo ~arch

Image Credit: Ben Stedman and Alex Legler/Gentoo

Gentoo is a rolling release distro where you compile software specifically for your machine. Thing is, installing Gentoo is not for newcomers or the faint of heart.

By default, it is actually quite stable. Gentoo focuses more on flexibility than being bleeding edge. This is because you compile programs directly on your computer rather than download a pre-compiled binary like you would on most other distros. Gentoo has a stable (arch) and unstable (~arch) release system, with the latter option disabled by default.

Gentoo is not for people unfamiliar with Linux. Gentoo takes a lot of manual work, as even app updates require compilation.

There are certainly benefits to this model. By compiling most of your software, Gentoo lets you trim your system down further than other operating systems. You can strip programs of unwanted features, for example. This might also yield potential speed gains. You also gain a thorough understanding of how Linux works, which might appeal to programmers.

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 or Debian, where mixing unstable 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 Gentoo 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, like openSUSE Tumbleweed, it comes bleeding edge by default. Arch strives to keep programs as modern as possible without breaking things.

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 start up automatically. In Arch, you need to enable them manually.

There are two streams of package releases: stable and testing. You can expect the stable programs to be about as up-to-date 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, a huge collection of programs that simplifies installing software not available from official Arch channels. 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 to install Arch without the fuss, you could always go for Arch-based operating systems such as Manjaro.

Make Sure to Keep a Backup

There are always risks with using an operating system that by design is always changing. As such, it’s important to take some precautions. You need to have a plan in place for when things go wrong.

A simple place to start is to back up your hard disk drive regularly, just in case.

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