Should you upgrade your Linux distribution?

Jack Wallen
Jul 1, 2009
Updated • Dec 28, 2012

So you're working with Ubuntu 8.04 or Fedora 10 and you're jonesing over the new release of your distribution. You have always kept up with the most recent releases, but time is critical and your machine is working well. How do you know if you should upgrade? Is it worth it? What would stop you from making the upgrade?

In this article I will give you reasons why you should and should not make the jump to the most recent release of your distribution. Hopefully, after reading this you will either want to immediately download the latest ISO or you'll close your browser and go about your merry business.


The Ubuntu update enigma can be made very simple by looking at one unique feature: LTS. LTS means Long Term Support. Every 2 years Ubuntu releases a new LTS version. When a release benefits from LTS it means it will enjoy three years of support on the desktop and five years on the server. This means that for 3 and 5 years your installation will get free supported updates. With a non-LTS release you only get 18 months of free, supported updates. When dealing with a server this can make a huge difference.

Now it does get a little confusing here. Why? Because a new Ubuntu is released every six months. So in the period of two years you will have gone through four releases. So the question then becomes "Do you deal with one release for two years that will always have updates, or do you just update the latest greatest every six months?"

I think most will agree that updating every six months is a bit much. And "updating" is a tricky word to use as the experience with updating from one release to another is not always the same...especially when looking at a major release update (going from 8.10 to 9.04 for example).

If you are still unsure if you should update your machine the next question you should ask yourself (once you've managed to get beyond the LTS or non-LTS question) is to find out if there is a new technology that you must have. For example, the 9.04 release of Ubuntu offers the ext4 file system and a brand new desktop messaging system. For some the ext4 file system was enough to win them over. But for others, a brand new file system is something that will need to have the bugs worked out before they are ready to use.

So ultimately with Ubuntu you have to first ask yourself if you want Long Term Support. If you do want LTS then you will update every two years. If you do not want LTS then you need to go to the next question: Is there something in particular in the new release that you want? If so take the plunge. If not, then you will want to wait for either a new LTS release or a the secondary release of the major release (i.e. 9.10 instead of 9.04).


If you are using Fedora you are using the cutting edge. And using the cutting edge comes with a price. Often upgrading the latest Fedora will result with broken features or hardware that won't work. With the update from Fedora 10 to 11 there are a number of complaints arising from the community. In particular are: Intel graphics issues, Sound issues, Font issues, and more. And with Fedora updating is more of a crap shoot than any other distribution. But, as stated, you know you are living on the edge by choosing Fedora as your distribution. So if you are using Fedora the choice to upgrade should be a no-brainer.

Remember, Fedora Linux is the primary testing ground for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The more people use the lastest release, the more bug reports are sent in. The more bug reports that are sent in means RHEL will continue to improve. The more RHEL improves the more likely enterprises will make the move to Linux.

But even knowing that Fedora is a cutting edge distribution, when you have finally managed to get everything running exactly how you want it, the idea of breaking all of that hard work is something that will cause many a fanboy to hesitate. But where is the fun in that? Fedora is about testing, tinkering, and reporting.

User types

There are generally two types of Linux users: Those that like the latest-greatest, and those that are happy that everything works. If you are one of the former groups you know that nothing will stop you from updating your machine. You are probably anxiously awaiting for the second the new release hits the mirrors so you can burn it and install it.

If you are one of the latter users than you wait, patiently, to hear the reports of how a release is going. For those people I will give this advise: Subsribe to the users mailing list of your distribution of choice. By subscribing to that list you are going to know, right away, what the problems are for that new release. And most likely you will see something pass through that list that will sway you one way or the other.

Final thoughts

It's not an easy choice. But it is one you will have to make at some point. And I realize that this choice is based on personal taste, time, resources, and knowledge. But the temptation to upgrade is a power to be rekoned with.  I have often succumbed to that temptation. And just where do I stand now? I am currently still using an older version of Elive Compiz because I know the latest version still has some bugs to be worked out (bugs that directly effect the very reason I use that particular distribution.) So I am in a holding pattern until the 2.0 release of my favorite distribution comes out.

What about you? What is your choice? Do you constantly live on the edge, or do you play it safe and stick with a release that works for as long as you can?


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  1. Jon Wright said on July 16, 2009 at 5:14 am

    Living on the edge huh? I would put accepting Linux advice from this author in that category – something of a dilettante on the Linux scene methinks.

    eg: “… the experience with updating from one release to another is not always the same…especially when looking at a major release update (going from 8.10 to 9.04 for example).”

    The release number is simply derived from the year and date of release. For example the latest version of Ubuntu, Jaunty, was released in April 2009 – hence 9.04. The previous release, 8.10, came in – you guessed it Oct 2008. There is absolutely no significance in terms of ‘updatiness’ between 8.10, 9.04 and 9.10.

    This egregious ignorance is reinforced two paragraphs later:

    “… you will want to wait for either a new LTS release or a the secondary release of the major release (i.e. 9.10 instead of 9.04).”

    Also what is it with the recurring ‘free’, ‘supported’ as in: “With a non-LTS release you only get 18 months of free, supported updates.”

    You get updates. Of course they’re free. What the author has in mind regarding ‘support’ is anyone’s guess. Keep it simple.

  2. Custom Distros said on July 2, 2009 at 4:19 am

    I’m in the camp that always wants the latest and greatest, which is probably why I use a rolling release distro. I don’t know why, but not having the latest software, kernel, etc.. just makes me want to have them even more.

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