How to deal with Linux Releases?

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http://forums.opensuse.org – These are more philosophical doubts. First of all I’m almost Linux Rookie ;) I’ve been having Linux (such as Knoppix-HD, Red-Hat, Mandrake) for many years but always as a secondary system, more for fun than for normal use. Primary system was always Windows XP. Now I’ve switched to Linux permanently. It’s not an easy way but sometimes the effect is even better. I moved 2 months ago to SUSE 11.1. I spent many weeks customizing it and tuning-up. I tried different applications and finally found a set of them that do the job for me. Now I feel like at home and most of thinks work. I really would not like to go once more thru all the steps, such as OpenGL support drivers, changing Yast under Gnome to KDE look, remapping key etc, etc. Doubts #1 Installing applications in Linux is easy when you have the Internet connection and your distribution was not closed down. Go to repo, click – works. But in Windows XP I really felt much safer about the future. I had the OS installation CD, CD with all the necessary drivers and DVD with all my favourite applications. In Linux it’s quite difficult to do like this (Image of HDD is not an solution). Any good ideas? Doubts #2 More than loosing the distribution support I’m confused with releases of the SUSE (and any other Linux). The are appearing so fast. I’m not a Linux maniac, I prefer working under my OS rather than working on the OS to make it work ;-). 2a. Tell me guys, should I always upgrade my system to the newest release? 2b And what will happen if I don’t? (I have enabled auto-update of the system, so it looks like it is kept up to date). 2c. How long can live with one release? With Windows XP I managed almost 8 years! Is it possible to stay with SUSE 11.1 for 8 years? 2d. Upgrading system to the newest release like from 11.1 to 11.2 is it perfectly-smooth upgrade? Will absolutely all the settings, colours etc. be the same after update? 2e. And I don’t like any kind of upgrades of the system. It always takes more hard drive space than doing it from scratch (I’m comparing drive space of course after making them equal with applications, settings etc.) Is it the same in SUSE, that after upgrade I will have some hidden backups or just rubbish like old kernels etc. (I’m not advanced user enough to clean those thing up.) Well that’s it. I would like to listen your opinions. I hope the it’s not so dark as I feel right now ;-) Cheers (Distributions)