Every Linux distro goes through at lest one big change at some point in its life span. However, there is one distro that seems to keep encountering major turmoil and changes on a regular basis. Let's look at the latest news coming from Solus.
Solus? What's That?
There are approximately six billion Linux distros (or so it seems). Most of them are reskins of Ubuntu or Arch, with at least one new feature added or highlighted. I can count on one hand the number of distros that are actually built from scratch. Solus is one of them.
According to Solus' website, "Solus is built from scratch to ensure every tweak, configuration, and optimization enables the delivery of a singular, cohesive desktop experience." All the important system tools, from the build tools to the package manager, have been built from scratch. They even created their own desktop environment named Budgie. (Budgie had since been spun off to be an independent project.)
What New in Solusville?
Tuesday, the Solus team made a blog post announcing some changes to the future of the distro. First, they are moving to a new build and development infrastructure. Previously, they had been hosted by the Rochester Institute of Technology. Only one member of the dev team had access to this infrastructure. In January 2023, there was a "hardware-level issue" that caused three months of downtime.
Around the time of the outage, SerpentOS (former Solus lead-dev and founder Ikey Doherty's newest project) reached out to Solus to offer hosting. According to the post, "Concerned by the continuing outage and its impact on Solus users and contributors, the Serpent OS team then shared a proposal which would allow Solus to resume operations with less technical debt and mitigation of the apparent bus factor of one."
A new organizational structure has also emerged from this collaboration. Several members of the SerpentOS team (who had left Solus in the last couple of years) will take over duties at Solus. The responsibilities of the Solus project will be divided up into six teams: Technical Steering Committee, Infrastructure and Operations, Community Engagement and Communications, Stack Maintainers, Package Maintainers, and Web Developers. For a detailed look at the responsibilities and make up of each team, please refer to the post.
Moving forward, Solus wants to be more open and transparent. Previously, if a member of the dev team wanted to share something they were working on, they had to get permission from one person, kinds of a communication czar. Going forward, team members will be encouraged to share what they are working, both via blog posts and streaming their work.
As for the distro itself, Solus will be delivering new ISOs for the 4.x branch with updated kernels and desktop environments so that it can run on modern hardware. They will also be working on "maintenance and quality-of-life tweaks" to the current dev tools. In the coming weeks, the team will be evaluating their custom tools to see how to move forward.
Early on, Solus was known for innovation. The post notes that "innovation in the Linux ecosystem is presently centered around the use of application sandboxing, containers and the development of immutable operating systems". Unfortunately, the current Solus tooling is not designed to handle this. So, the team has decided to take a big step and rebase the distro on SerpentOS.
Now, what is this SerpentOS?
You might have noticed SerpentOS being mentioned several times in this article and wonder what the heck it is. It is a new distro. In fact, it was started two years ago. Ikey Doherty created it from scratch with a new build system and package manager. According to the website:
Serpent OS strives to provide the perfect hybrid experience - a traditional, package management driven Linux distribution powered by the latest technologies. Stateless by design with atomic updates at the core, Serpent OS aims to close the gap between development and production.
The Solus blog post concludes by stating that moving to SerpentOS tooling and systems will allow Solus to:
- Shed technical debt in terms of tools and development processes
- Offer seamlessly integrated from-source user repositories, finally making the much asked for Solus User Repository a reality, as well enabling users to self-host personal from-source repositories
- Become an atomic and immutable operating system with the benefits that this entails in terms of reliability and security
- Be ported to other architectures than x86_64, such as AArch64 and RISC-V, in the future
Change is Not New to Solus
I find this whole story fascinating. It is just the latest in a series of shake ups at Solus. Back in 2018, Ikey (the founder and lead dev of the project) departed the project. Two years later, Ikey announced that he was working on an open source game engine named Serpent. Apparently, Ikey got frustrated with the development tooling available in other Linux distros, so he set about creating his own from scratch in June of 2020. Then, in January 2022, Joshua Strobl who had been the lead dev of Budgie and co-lead dev of Solus left Solus and forked Budgie. And now both Ikey and Josh are returning to Solus and flipping it on it's head.
After Ikey left Solus, it floundered for a while, and frankly I lost interest in it. Now he's back with basically a new OS. It feels a lot like when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. He brought with him a new operating system that became Mac OS X and saved Apple. Hopefully, Ikey can do the same with Solus.