back to article Could immutability be a Leap too far for openSUSE users?

The future of openSUSE is firming up, but possibly not in the direction that existing users of the distro will enjoy. The latest update on the future of openSUSE Leap confirms that there will be a release called Leap 16 at some point, alongside a version 6 of the existing Leap Micro … but version 16 will be based on SUSE's …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    If you alienate existing users to achieve something you think is important then either it really isn't important to them or you've done an inadequate job of explaining why it really is important to them.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      > either it really isn't important to them or you've done an inadequate job of explaining why it really is important to them

      Well, yes, but there's a bigger picture here.

      Perhaps SUSE's management, in this instance, feels that the risk of upsetting tens to maybe hundreds of thousands of free users of its free distros is worth the possible benefit of making a considerably more robust OS which it can _sell_ to its big corporate clients?

      Or, given that Red Hat has been busy actively alienating the users of _its_ free enterprisey distros, SUSE is eyeing up the possibility of attracting upset RH users over to a different RH distro family?

      RHEL does not include Btrfs or any COW-capable FS. Stratis is just trickling out now. I think SUSE feels it has a technological edge here, and it's trying to move fast to exploit that advantage.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well, yes, but there's a bigger picture here.

        Indeed. The bigger picture here is that SUSE (the company) and openSUSE (the community) are two separate entities, and now that SUSE is desperately hunting for increased revenue it's focus is on uplifting SEL to an immutable enterprise platform but also on it's RHEL alternative offering (which is only available to paying customers). openSUSE as a distro doesn't play into any of this.

        But this now leaves with openSUSE nowhere to go. ALP is aimed at servers (the number of SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop users has been negligible, anyways, so there is no desktop focus on ALP), which leaves the openSUSE community to take care of the desktop stack. Which is a lot of work (there are hardly enough supporters to support the GNOME variant called Aeon, and the KDE variant Kalpa is likely to die because of a sheer lack of volunteers). Also, with ALP openSUSE will no longer have access to the enterprise repositories. So the end result will be an openSUSE distro which will (again) notably deviate from SUSE's commercial Linux, but this time with even less to rely on from SUSE.

        For openSUSE users, especially those appreciating Leap for stability, there is no real path forward. There has been talk of a semi-LTS variant of Aeon/Kalpa in the form of snapshots/freezes of the rolling release MicroOS, but that's littler more than a plaster for the lack of a stable LTS distro based on the enterprise Linux packages of its commercial counterpart.

        It's no surprise openSUSE users are worried.

        But even amongst SUSE customers there has been an impression of increasing desperation by SUSE. Considering it's one of the top two (or three, if you include Canonical) vendors of enterprise Linux, it's not a very enticing outlook for the whole ecosystem.

        1. drankinatty

          Re: Well, yes, but there's a bigger picture here.

          Been a SUSE user since 7.0 Pro (Air) and an openSUSE user since that Moniker was coined somewhere around openSUSE 11.0, but this alas is a clear fork-in-the-road. The powers that be in the latest ownership incarnation of Rancher have made clear, openSUSE is but a step-child and has been increasing treated as such. In the early years it was the test-bed of what would flow into SLE. Later as the ringed-build-system was ironed out there was less and less reliance on openSUSE as the testbed. The latest corporate owners and just decided to kill Leap off and screw the installed user-base. The old, we took a decade of your help to develop our product, now you can be cast off like an old worn out shoe -- we've got it from here, thank you....

          A user-distro with an immutable root filesystem is as worthless as tits on a boar-hog. Need to tweak swappiness, or make another system-wide change -- tough.

          Along with openSUSE I also use Arch, Debian and Ubuntu, so other than it being something that "irks the hell out of you", it's not the end of the road. Regardless of distro, it's all Linux underneath the hood. What the larger Linux community loses is a reliable traditional Linux distribution that made a name for SUSE, and that is something that will be missed. Corporate governance of Linux has always been a rocky road, just ask Mandrake...

          1. MacroRodent

            Re: Well, yes, but there's a bigger picture here.

            > Need to tweak swappiness, or make another system-wide change -- tough.

            I have not looked into how these work, but it certainly would not work well if you cannot change such parameters. I always imagined a read-only root fs just means the code and seldom changing data (like zoneinfo) is immutable, not the configuration data.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "the risk of upsetting tens to maybe hundreds of thousands of free users of its free distros is worth the possible benefit of making a considerably more robust OS which it can _sell_ to its big corporate clients?"

        There are a lot of free distros out there. If their users didn't think Suse's were robust enough they'd jump ship. If they're the ones who make the decisions, or at least the recommendations, for the big corporate purchases and Suse alienates them they're not going to be on Suse's side when those purchasing decisions are made.

        Adding what may well be perceived as a lot of weird, and therefore potentially flaky, stuff to something which is already perceived as good enough, is going to be a big point against buying it. And if the weird stuff really does prove to be flaky...

        There's another point in the article which struck me, which I didn't comment on yesterday. If you're selling support and think that this improves robustness you're doing this to reduce your support costs. If, then, I'm a potential customer and look at what you're doing in that respect I'm likely to think if this is in the free edition and it's made it more robust* then why would I need to pay for the support?

        Yet another alternative view is that if they system is designed to make rolling back upgrades easier if they go wrong, does it mean they're anticipating upgrades going wrong because they're planning to cut testing on them?

        I suppose early encounters with Suse have left me feeling that it was a little outside the mainstream so I went Ubuntu > Debian > Devuan instead.

        * This assumes I'm buying the "not robust enough to go without support" line.

    2. ddemaio

      To be clear, there is no plan to drop the classical (non-immutable) option for Leap. This is buried at the bottom of the article, which are clearly attributed in quotes. openSUSE developers have always offered choice and been transparent. People can read these discussions on https://lists.opensuse.org/archives/list/factory@lists.opensuse.org/ and make their own informed decision.

  2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

    That is only half true

    If a disk/ssd/nvme is going bad with a hardware fault, a read only FS will not protect you.

    The R/O filesystem will only protect you from some threats. If the bad guys find the password or can crack it then read only won't stop the bad guys.

    Many of us long time Linux users follow the KISS principle. All this containerization malarkey is a monster step too far. Sorry. The SUSE users I know love the old KISS approach. They will not like this move.

    Why do Linux Distro management keep shooting themselves in the foot like this? We are just getting over the IBM/RedHat madness with CentOS and hiding sources then we have this...

    I would like them to [see icon]

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

      [Author here]

      > If a disk/ssd/nvme is going bad with a hardware fault, a read only FS will not protect you.

      Absolutely true, but I think the key thing is that there are _already_ tools & tech to help with that kind of threat, such as RAID, drive mirroring and so on, and they are to some degree hardware- or kernel-level stuff. That means they are in a different realm from distribution design. Distro designers are trying to find new ways to protect distros _as well as_ existing measures such as this.

      The bigger picture view: iOS, iPadOS and Android have shown that immutable OS deployment and image-based update distribution works, well, in the field, at vast scale, on devices with no local tech support. This stuff is out there today and used by literally billions of people. It works.

      Distro vendors are now scrambling to bring this _kind_ of tech to end user OSes, to server OSes, and possibly most lucrative of all, to IoT and edge devices (because there are lots of them and they stick around for years, unlike datacentre VMs which tend to be evanescent).

      > If the bad guys find the password or can crack it then read only won't stop the bad guys.

      Well, it might. This is future tech, not out yet, but Endless OS is a good example, which I wrote about here:

      https://www.theregister.com/2023/01/12/endless_os_5/

      I've been experimenting with Endless for years. It doesn't matter if you make yourself the root user: the root FS is still read-only. *Even root can't change it.* There *is* no normal package manager and even if you get root you can't install one.

      > Why do Linux Distro management keep shooting themselves in the foot like this?

      Well, because they want to sell millions of licences to automobile makers, for instance.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: *Even root can't change it.*

        I'm missing something here - if root can't change anything, how do system updates get done? You just update an overlay of the original root FS ...?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @AC - Re: *Even root can't change it.*

          There will be something like root but inaccessible to you. Software vendor will control the OS like in Android, iOS and (pretty soon) Microsoft.

        2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: *Even root can't change it.*

          > You just update an overlay of the original root FS..?

          Kinda.

          OS images come pre-assembled from the vendor, like phone OSes. You can't modify them.

          The Red Hat way: you use a Git-like tool (i.e. incomprehensible technology so advanced as to seem like magic) to download the differences between your current unmodifiable binary image and a new unmodifiable binary image. The distro tool does some black magic to make the new one current, at a level you can't see, then you reboot into it. Possibly using some systemd jiggery-pokery so you don't have to cold-start the kernel.

          The Canonical way: you download a new compressed file (or files) and it links them together into an unmodifiable image, e.g. a kernel image, a root filesystem image, a userland image, etc... then it hooks them together into a whole and you reboot into it.

          The SUSE way... the OS tells the FS to make a new snapshot, mounting it somewhere special as a Btrfs subvolume, then runs a special mode of the package manager to install your changes into that while leaving the current one, still R/O, untouched. Then it reboots and swaps them around so the new one becomes current and the old one becomes a backup.

      2. Jusme

        Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

        "The bigger picture view: iOS, iPadOS and Android have shown that immutable OS deployment and image-based update distribution works, well, in the field, at vast scale, on devices with no local tech support. This stuff is out there today and used by literally billions of people. It works."

        And for an applicance, that's great. I have an iPhone and a PS5, and am quite happy that they're locked down and managed, because I just want them to work.

        But I also want to be able to learn and develop, and this march to "closed" systems is making the barrier to entry higher and higher. How long before Windows gets locked down to make loading unapproved "apps" difficult? Can't be far off that now. And it seems Linux is hot on it's heels. Will I need a vendor-supplied SDK to develop my own software?

        "So go get the source and build it yourself." Yep, that certainly works today. Until I need to get the bootloader signed by MS for it to run on any modern hardware. And it won't be able to connect to the internet because it won't have the necessary certificates.

        Ok, I'm being a bit pessimistic, but there are people out there who would approve of this.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

        I can see the point for IOT and devices with a captive audience (like phones, where the software is quite prescriptive). Sure, you don't need root access to your fridge.....

        But just look at the number of 'smart' appliances out there now which are already obsolete because it's impossible to update them.

        For general Enterprise applications (let alone complex bespoke ones) - that's a bit of a stretch isn't it? Surely a case for using the right tool for the right job?

      4. Smirnov

        Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

        "The bigger picture view: iOS, iPadOS and Android have shown that immutable OS deployment and image-based update distribution works, well, in the field, at vast scale, on devices with no local tech support. This stuff is out there today and used by literally billions of people. It works."

        Yes, but only that most of these systems use a simple A/B partitioning scheme where updates are installed in another partition which is then booted into, which means the original boot partition now becomes the new spare.

        Same advantage without all the complexity that comes with any of the immutable Linux distros.

        1. Proton_badger

          Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

          Not too different from Suse installing into a new snapshot and making it default, which I think is rather simple and lovely.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

            Quite a bit different, in a way that snapshots are much more complex than a spare partition.

            Which is the main reason why embedded devices (where reliability is important) use A/B partitioning to this day, not snapshots.

      5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

        "image-based update distribution works"

        Ah, yes. I remember it well. HP-UX. We got a new coaster CD every 6 months and had to find downtime to re-install. I don't see that as being in any way a better way to update.

        There was a companion Informix CD to re-install at the same time and as we had a CD set for each box we really did end up using them as coasters to the consternation of a user who came to visit me at my desk.

        1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

          > HP-UX. We got a new coaster CD every 6 months and had to find downtime to re-install.

          I do not know HP-UX at all, but I do not think it was any kind of immutable OS.

          It was probably just an easier, cheaper way to distribute updates before broadband. NT service packs and even MS Office ones were available on CD for a while. Same principle?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

            You're right, it's not.

            The CD being referred to was most likely a patch CD that HP would send out on a fairly regular basis. We used to get the CD, create a software depot, and then patch systems against it. They used to be referred to as a 'Gold Patch CD'.

            I still have notes from the early 2000's.

            Hell, I feel OLD!

    2. nijam Silver badge

      Re: re: A read-only root file system makes the OS much more resilient against disk corruption,

      > ...a read only FS will not protect you.

      No, but it might make it much more difficult to fix.

  3. John.B

    Would be nice for Windows

    This would be great for Windows & Patch Tuesday etc as advertised on the tin..

    1. ldo

      Re: Would be nice for Windows

      WSL2 will show the way. Once Windows has been replaced with a WINE-like emulation layer, the underlying Linux kernel will make things like this—and more—possible.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Would be nice for Windows

        What WINE-like emulation layer. It'll be a thin client to connect to your Windows 365 running in a Microsoft data centre somewhere.

  4. Mockup1974 Bronze badge

    I wonder if Leap 16 will still support a normal desktop like KDE or Xfce. Because it sounds like ALP won't.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      AIUI they're working on immutable GNOME and KDE versions already.

      The former is called Aeon:

      https://en.opensuse.org/Portal:Aeon

      The latter, Kalpa.

      https://kalpadesktop.org

  5. ldo

    I Wonder Why You Would Trust ZFS Over btrfs ...

    ... when the filesystem’s owner, Oracle, will not offer it with its own Linux distro, preferring to include btrfs instead.

    1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

      Re: I Wonder Why You Would Trust ZFS Over btrfs ...

      Because ZFS on Linux is not Oracle ZFS but OpenZFS which was forked when Oracle took over Sun and closed the formerly open source Solaris - so it's community owned.

      FreeBSD trust it well enough to make it the default FS. It works on Mac and Linux, and there's a Windows port if you're courageous.

      I trust it on Linux over btrfs because it doesn't eat my data, and it is sensible and easy to use, both of which are barriers to btrfs adoption.

      Such a shame the distro makers generally can't be bothered to work around the license legalities (you can distribute it as source, but not binary), and that the kernel developers keep changing things just enough to break it.

      1. ldo

        Re: Because ZFS on Linux is not Oracle ZFS but OpenZFS

        So which one is supposed to be more trustworthy, again? The genuine Oracle product or the copy?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From openSUSE Leap to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server PAYG on Azure

    From openSUSE Leap to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server PAYG on Azure

    SUSE and Microsoft have been working together for over 10 years to provide unique solutions for SUSE Linux Enterprise products that are Azure-optimized.

  7. chuckufarley Silver badge

    I like the idea of immutable Suse...

    ...I haven't tried any of them yet but I like the idea. I just hope they don't say "Oh, everyone is on immutable now and our next step is to force them onto a rolling release."

    That would be the end of me using Suse.

    1. ldo

      Re: force them onto a rolling release.

      “Force” and “Linux” are words that do not go in the same sentence, if you haven’t already realized by now.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: force them onto a rolling release.

        There is always a first time

        Never count your chickens

        etc

        etc

        etc

        As we have seen with the resistance/hatred to systemd, there are workarounds but they only seem to fragment an already overcrowded and complicated marketplace.

        I hate systemd and I'd probably put my knee somewhere soft if I ever had the misfortune to meet the man responsible for it, I have gotten used to the very little that I have to use (with gritted teeth).

        The same goes for a lot of this containerisation [redacted]. My servers are small and low powered and now that NVME is available for the Pi, I'll be going that way soon. Why the FSCK do I need all that mega server virtualisation/containerisation stuff forced down my throat? I don't.

        I'll keep with my approach until I'm pushing up the daisies.

        1. ldo

          Re: force them onto a rolling release.

          > As we have seen with the resistance/hatred to systemd,

          > there are workarounds but they only seem to fragment

          > an already overcrowded and complicated marketplace.

          What a load of nonsense. There are plenty of alternatives to systemd and other common components of the Linux ecosystem, which do exactly what they are designed to do, no more, no less. You make your choice among these components on that basis. Some people hate systemd, I can accept that. They make their choice, I make mine.

          1. Paul Kinsler

            Re: There are plenty of alternatives to systemd and other common component...

            There are indeed.

            However, not everyone is a fan of distro-hopping. And if you have been with a distro for a long time, you may well have a body of experience with it that makes your life very easy and familiar.

            But then if your distro-of-choice then decides on making a significant change of direction (let us e.g. say swapping to systemd) that you do not find helpful, you have essentially two options, neither very palatable: (a) swap distro and start somewhat from scratch, or (b) learn to live with this new horror imposed upon you.

            Fortunately, I'm primarily a slackware user, so so far I have mostly escaped many of the big swerves like systemd, snaps, &etc. But applications I use a lot have sometimes changed under me, and the transition is not always easy - whether I choose to stick-and-adapt, or to jump-ship to something else. And even if the a-vs-b choice is indeed yours, the timing imposed is not.

            1. ldo

              Re: not everyone is a fan of distro-hopping

              “You have a choice.”

              “Not everyone is a fan of having to choose.”

              Hear that? That’s the sound of the world’s smallest violin.

  8. chololennon
    Unhappy

    Long time openSUSE here...

    As a long time openSUSE user, I am pretty happy with it. Btrfs saved my day a lot of times, especially with NVIDIA Optimus drivers in one of my notebooks. Related disk space problems are not important (to me), I just remove some snapshots with snapper and problem(s) solved. I have never experience data corruption with Btrfs. Having said that, do I want an immutable distro? No. I don't need it. I have never had the problems they say it will solve. Probably I will migrate to another distro :-( if they stop supporting the "classic" openSUSE.

  9. georgezilla

    I've used opensuse ...................... for so long that I can't actually remember when it was. If they take Tumbleweed here, then I'm gone. And maybe have to start saying ........................

    BTW, I use Arch.

    And that would be a sad day indeed. :(

    Systemd is bad enough. Snap? Flatpack? Appimage? They too would be the straw that .................

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A lot of confusion about what "immutable" means here

    "Immutable" does not mean "the user can't change it". Using MicroOS, Kalpa, or Aeon, you can see exactly how it works. Immutable Linux installations are not "locked down" like Android or your Samsung fridge. They're locked down to prevent rogue apps from screwing the system up.

    See 'transactional-update --help' to become enlightened. If the user wants to mess with the immutable parts, 'transactional-update shell' is there for you. Have a party. Wipe the /usr directory if you so desire.

    But don't misrepresent what this actually means.

  11. jaypyahoo

    Because of these kind of things done by Suse and RedHat i am hoping for better BSDs future.

    Indie devops should opt for NetBSD for servers.

  12. boatsman
    Pint

    long article, no explanation what this "immutable" is about.

    which is kind of sad...

    "immutable" simply means you cannot login / become root and screw up the system by accident.

    because / is mounted readonly.

    mount -o rw will fix that. that requires an action that cannot happen accidentally. so no excuses anymore, system operators.. :-)

    the tech is called snapper. it makes snapshots of filesystem. its been there for 10 years.

    you will need to use the transaction mechanism. knowing suse since ages, this is probably going to be automagic, *unless* you turn it off. just like snapper snapshots are right now.

    updates / installs become a transaction. which you can roll back. works like a charm. and that is nothing new; its been there (in suse) for a looong time.

    its not btrfs only. snapper also used to work with ext4 but will be / is discontinued.

    really dont see the issue here. unless one's idea of freedom is the freedom to screw up a system due to blissful ignorance.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: long article, no explanation what this "immutable" is about.

      I'm disappointed. I thought we were going back to booting the operating system off ROM.

      -A.

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