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I am running ubuntu on several computers. One in particular runs mythbuntu and is a mythtv server and frontend.
I do the ubuntu upgrade every 6 months so that I can gain the new features and enhancements included in mythtv.
My issue is that with each upgrade seems to come more issues. For instance, this time I upgraded to the latest and greatest and now mythtv crashes every day or two. Also, since vdpau was added to the new nvidia drivers, i am unable to get it to work.
So my question is: Is it normal for you guys to do a complete reinstall when you want to go to a new version of your linux flavor of choice.
It seems that the new ubuntu (really mythbuntu) is very stable and never crashes, but it just seems to me that once you start running a few programs, they just don't upgrade well.
Ubuntu upgrades are disasters just waiting to happen. I do full re-installs - just before the next one is due, so they can iron out all the bugs before I get there. I did Lucid over the (last) weekend on machines I care about - my test machines are another matter.
Does that say something ...
The only distro I've ever had upgrade without issue is Slackware, and that's not to say I've never had issues upgrading Slackware. It's the only one that "usually" upgrades fine that I've used. Even Arch which is rolling release has caused me problems in the limited use I've had with it.
I have no idea about the status for other rolling-release distros. But since I use Gentoo never had to reinstall (only to migrate from x86 to x86_64). It forces you to understand what's going under the hood anyway, so when there's a given issue you can always fix it.
I can honestly say from all the servers I manage. After a few years all the Windows ones start to slow down and need a re-format (which is tuff to do on servers).
As for Linux (CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu servers which we use) I have never noticed a speed decrease or instability over years of having them running.
This may be due to the face Windows auto-updates itself where our Linux we manually update only packages we need or the Kernel every so often. But I have found Linux to be far more stable and reliable in the long term.
I can not comment on updating entire distributions as I have never tried, but heard that it can be safer to do a complete wipe and start over if doing this.
I tend to do a fresh install (with a new /home and all) whenever I decide to upgrade or replace my OS... I just like to clean up all the clutter and such on my system, make new configurations and such, basically start over.
Some distros it's better to do a fresh install than an upgrade, just because sometimes upgrades like to break things, but it's not always needed.
I'm happy to keep an Ubuntu LTS version, now 12.04, going and ignore new distro updates. I will update to new kernels and software packages. Some packages, like kmix because of them dropping useful features, I had locked in synaptic and therefore they won't get updated. I keep a clean version of the distro going on an external drive and make backups with remastersys which if needed can be installed again. I love to check out new distros via a USB stick, installed with unetbootin, and run them live or I install them in virtualbox from the iso itself.
One problem is the sheer scale of the job: upgrading means checking a thousand or more packages to see which need replacing by a new version or even by something completely different. It's not surprising that there are sometimes problems and that some distros don't even offer the facility.
Another problem concerns the reliability of new versions. Even Microsoft can't check Windows on every type of hardware and with every possible program: that why they produce service packs. If you take Debian, the Stable repository consists of things that have been used for sometime by a lot of people, so the reliability is high. The Unstable repository consists of things that have been checked by the person who made the package: the rest is up to the people who download it! Mythtv will have been lifted out of that repository by Canonical, and you don't know how recently it was put there and how many (or few) people have used that version before you. As you say, the OS is fine: that's because lots of people have been there before you to report the bugs.