What Are The Alternatives to CentOS?

In early December 2020, Red Hat announced the end of support for CentOS, a free alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, generously inviting all users of this distribution to switch to CentOS Stream. Most of all, this news shocked those who had already migrated to CentOS 8. Although support for the eighth version of the operating system was supposed to end only on May 31, 2029, the initial EOL (End of Lifetime) was limited to December 31, 2021 (so the promised ten years magically turned into two years). Those who use CentOS 7 are much more fortunate because the support dates were left unchanged, so the operating system will continue to receive critical updates until 2024. However, who knows what will come to Red Hat’s mind in the near future?

According to Red Hat, CentOS Stream is by far the most balanced distribution, combining the innovation of Fedora with the stability of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Precisely to meet the needs of the community, Red Hat decided to focus entirely on supporting this version of the distribution, making CentOS Stream “the main center of innovation for the RHEL ecosystem.”

However, the community did not appreciate this concern. For example, the moderators of the thematic subreddit added the postscript corporate-driven (instead of community-driven). ZDNet magazine, owned by CBS Interactive, openly expressed the opinion that the withdrawal of support for CentOS is nothing more than part of the promotion of RHEL.

Red Hat’s reaction was not long in coming, as the company heeded the community’s voice by changing the Red Hat Enterprise Linux developer guidelines. Previously, the Red Hat Developer program had a “one developer, one license” rule, and the distribution itself could only be deployed in a local environment. From February 1, 2021, entire teams can participate in the program. The number of licenses has increased from 1 to 16. The new EULA conditions allow the installation of the OS in instances of public cloud services. But, of course, only for software development purposes.

What Should You Do?

The best Linux is the one your sysadmin understands, and it’s tough to argue with this. Although the UNIX-like operating systems are based on the same principles, each distribution has its own characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses, the knowledge of which largely determines the effectiveness of work with the IT infrastructure created on their basis. If your company has been using a particular operating system for a long time, you probably have written hundreds or even thousands of scripts sharpened for the selected software environment and are an integral part of internal corporate services. The complete rewriting is fraught with serious financial and time costs, not to mention potential loss if something goes wrong.

The most logical strategy is to migrate to a distribution that is as close as possible in architecture to the original. And in the case of CentOS, the choice is not so small.

What Are The Options?

Oracle Linux

Oracle Linux is a free distribution that pretty much duplicates RHEL. It is fully compatible with existing applications on your CentOS server. Additionally, the Oracle company presented a convenient conversion script for the automatic migration of production systems, which switches your CentOS Linux server to Oracle Linux and supports the 6th, 7th, and 8th OS versions. This distribution closely follows the release cycle of RHEL.

AlmaLinux

Another great alternative is a relative newcomer, AlmaLinux. This project has appeared as a response to the early discontinuation of CentOS 8 support. AlmaLinux follows the basic principles of CentOS distribution.

Talking about the future of this project, AlmaLinux has excellent chances to take the vacant place of CentOS since the CloudLinux team has ample experience in the development and maintenance of RH-based projects because the company’s product is based on RHEL. Their team has already clearly demonstrated what they can do by presenting the first stable build of the operating system just four months after the initial announcement. If this continues, they will be able to compete with Oracle.

Rocky Linux

Rocky Linux is a CentOS fork led by Greg Kurtzer, the founder of CentOS. It is a community-enterprise operating system designed to be 100% compatible with RHEL. This Linux distribution aims to function as a downstream build just like CentOS had previously done, building releases after they are added by the upstream vendor, not before.

Given that Rocky is also based on RHEL, the future of Rocky Linux seems pretty solid. As a community-based distribution, it won’t be subject to the sudden changes of a commercial company, so Rocky users won’t have to worry about something similar to the unexpected fate of CentOS 8.

Conclusion

Now that you know some of the alternatives to CentOS, it’s time to decide which one to use. Even if at the moment you are using CentOS 8, you still have a few months left to decide on the distribution that is right for you and start planning your migration strategy. If your server is using CentOS 7, you still have a lot of time to think about this decision, but do not upgrade to CentOS 8.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for something really close to CentOS, we recommend choosing one of the three mentioned above.

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