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Seeing as there are many questions regarding Alpha, Beta or Release Candidates for Ubuntu I wanted to know what are the several reasons for a new user (or even an old user) NOT to use this stages from Ubuntu until its finished and the reasons to use them until they are finished.

This includes 32-bit, 64-bit, desktop and server.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

These versions are not considered stable. So, using them is risky. The probability of getting into trouble is bigger, and this is the reason Not to use them.

The reasons to use them are:

  • You start using more recent software earlier. So, in most cases you will enjoy a more modern software ecosystem.
  • You get the possibility of helping the project better, since you are then able to report problems with the Alpha, Beta and RC versions.

As for me, given that I am a programmer and that I am highly dependent of my computer to work, I always use the Stable Release. Though, in my private computer I enable the proposed and backports repositories, so I am able use the most recent (and unstable) software (for which I can report problems too). At my job's workstation I only use the regular repositories.

While I was a student I always used the beta release, and it was once problematic when trying to upgrade it.

edit: There is a third option: You can also stick to the LTS releases and just update LTS releases. This is the least-maintenance-requiring option.

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To put it simple: The Alpha, Beta, RC, ... -releases of Ubuntu are very unstable. They're made available for testing purposes. Also, the slightest uncompatible update would be able to kill your system.

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too simple answer i think. You can improve that. With same example. –  Alessio Mar 11 '12 at 22:38

The reason why people should test Alpha, Beta & Release Candidates of Ubuntu is to bugfix, admittedly not everyone should immediately download the latest version and start doing it on their production machine, but if you are in a position where you have a spare PC or you can use it via virtualbox then you could give it a try and help the release.

I have done this with versions 10.04 and 11.04, both at the alpha stage and I have found it to be helpful and I gain a better perspective having never done testing before.

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The reason it is not recommended is that the smallest update can kill your machine. Until officialy released as stable any of the versions could crash beyond repair forcing you to a re-install. Heck...it is not even guaranteed a re-install is even an option if there is a problem with the installer.
And not a lot of people can help you when it does: since it is cutting edge software the actual creator of this software is one of few that will understand why it went wrong and is the only one that can fix it.

So unless you are able to diagnose the problem yourself and get the solution to the problem or a very detailed description of the problem to the maintainer it is rather useless to begin with an alpha or beta (those are also the reasons to install an alpha or beta: if you want to help getting it better).

In general all the Release Candidates up to and including 10.10 have been good for me though. 11.04 I had to wait until the official release to get it working as intended

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One of the biggest reasons an inexperienced user might not want to use a development release is that it's usually a one-way trip, it is non-trivial to move back to a previous version:

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Ubuntu has its pre-releases (alpha, beta, release candidate) setup for testing (that means lots of crash reports). I installed Ubuntu in release candidate once or twice back when and I found it to be completely fine, mind you there's no release candidate for Ubuntu 12.04, so I don't know whether Canonical will ever use the RC's again as official pre-releases. As a general guideline, wait until the release if you can. If you just need the latest version of a web browser, office suite, media player, etc. it's much easier just to add the PPA, then do a fresh install on release day of the new version. If you hope to install Ubuntu for a friend, try to plan the install around release dates (tell your friend it's most convenient for you on a date after the release).

Reasons to jump the gun and install a pre-release:

  • You're using new hardware, and you've tried the live session of a pre-release and now that peripheral works out of the box
  • You have the patience to troubleshoot dependency issues and possibly live without a few apps properly working, you don't mind the frequent bug report messages
  • You're using relatively unstable software anyway (early versions of a desktop shell, etc.) and you've tried the live session and found it to already be much more stable in the future version
  • You get to use features that won't be available for Windows for another five years

Opportunity cost:

  • If the latest build is still in alpha, features haven't been finalized yet, so expect an insanely unstable system. Don't rely on an alpha build for productivity.
  • If it's in beta, use it if you're cool with the points mentioned earlier.
  • If you must install Ubuntu for a friend, and you can't postpone it until after the release, if there is no release candidate, get a daily/nightly build if you're just a week or two away from the release date. Almost everything would have been finalized by then.
  • If it's for your own computer and you're only a week or so away from release, wait for it to release...You'll benefit from extra features being made available for that version (repositories, scripts, other tips and tricks on popular weblogs) immediately if you install after the release date. If you install prior to the release date, you'll have to put up with doing without those features, or it's going to be much more Do-It-Yourself.
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