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I'm installing opensuse 11.0 on my dell 1520 today. I've run various distro's for quite some time (PClinuxOS, Linux Mint, Sidux to name a few) and i'm some what of an update freak. I constantly check to see if my system is all up tight. Is that really necessary? I mean, if i've got my system running great and it's not a security patch what are the benefits of upgrading windows managers or the kernel and stuff? I mean if i'm missing something let me know because i just can't think of a good reason constantly update my system.
You should see the thread about update manager vulnerabilities - though they are often used to automate the process of installing fixes such as security updates, they themselves provide some means of breaking into your system.
You install updates because you want newer software. You want newer software because (one, some or none of these may apply)
- it may have security holes fixed
- it may have new functionality
- it may look better
- it may have performance benefits
- it is needed by some other piece of the system
- it may simply offer something the older one doesn't
If your system is running fine, apart from security updates you don't necessarily have to update anything. There's a saying "don't fix a working thing" and that applies - an upgrade may well open up a new security hole or just break in your hands, even though package reposities' contents are usually somewhat "tested" to work. If the updates fix security issues, it is usually a good idea to install them, but bear in mind that they can cause trouble too, and the need of an update is always up to the system and what it's used for.
At work we have some systems that have not been updated too much for some years now, but that's because they run fine, aren't networked and don't have users logged in unless for maintenance reasons (not all are Linux, though; there are other *nix type systems too).
I personally wouldn't apply all updates as soon as they arrive, because typically shiny new software has shiny new bugs not found at time of release - usually a few days or a week or so from their release at least some of the problems have been found if they exist, hopefully fixed, and that allows to stay away from some trouble. There's no golden way to stay out of all trouble, though.
I don't update my system constantly. I have two servers running Slackware, the only time I update is if there is something I use that is affected by a security vulnerability. And even then, sometimes the security vulnerability doesn't affect me cause it's something that isn't being used or utilized on my server.
So, the best approach is, pay attention to the updates. If it's an enhancement from just a newer version, upgrade if you'll use such enhancements. If it's a security vulnerability, find out what it is, what's affected and then decide if it impacts your machine to either update or not.
My servers are quite happy still running a 2.4.x kernel. There's really no reason for me to upgrade to 2.6.x. The servers are older so the hardware in them is fully functioning with such kernel. I'm actually still using Apache 1.3.x as well, I've had no reason to upgrade to 2 for the same reasons.
There is NO REASON to upgrade all the time, it's just a gimmick to keep people interested in the "bleeding edge" - the whole distros themselves get updated quickly enough that that is all anyone should need generally need (this doesnt go for security). One of the first things Fedora does when you get into it the first time is promptly tell you about updates - I really HATE that about it.
I update if I have to (security), if it would be a good idea (new version of driver X possibly functioning more stable/has a feature I really need/want) or if it's one of the five projects I'd like to have bleeding edge always shiny and new. (Gimp, Inkscape, Perl, Firefox).
Otherwise, stuff gets old and dusty in my system never to be touched ever again.
If there is no recent security issue and you don't need driver stuff, you absolutely dont' need to bother with a new kernel.
Well, the distros you mentioned don't really belong to the "insanely time-consuming" category, so I think it's okay if you check for updates often. Things get different when it comes to distros like Slack, Gentoo - where you usually have to recompile the kernel (and other software) yourself, check for new/renamed features and such.. I used to update only if I found the new version contained a fix/improvement that had direct influence on my system.