At the end of last year, Red Hat announced some changes that surprised most of the users. Specifically, the end of support for CentOS, which was a free alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Of course, the company did not stop there and generously invited all users of this distribution to switch to the new platform, CentOS Stream. While it was surprising to every CentOS user, this news shocked particularly those who had already migrated to CentOS 8. The initially promised support for the eighth version was supposed to end only in 2029. However, it appears now that the EOL (End of Lifetime) will be limited to December 31, 2021. As you can see, the promised ten years magically turned into two years. Luckily, CentOS 7 users are more fortunate because the support dates were left unchanged, which means that the operating system will continue receiving critical updates up until the year of 2024. Who knows what will come to Red Hat's mind in the near future?
Red Hat states that the new platform, CentOS Stream, is the most balanced distribution that combines the innovation of Fedora and the stability of RHEL. In their defense, the company clarified that to meet the community's needs, they decided to focus entirely on the support of CentOS Stream, making it "the main center of innovation for the RHEL ecosystem."
Although Red Hat tried to sound confident and caring, the community did not appreciate this news at all. For example, as a response to the announcement, the moderators of the thematic subreddit changed the postscript from corporate-driven to community-driven. Additionally, CBS Interactive's ZDNet magazine openly expressed their thoughts that the withdrawal of support for CentOS is nothing more than just a part of the promotion of RHEL.
The reaction of Red Hat was pretty quick. The company noticed the voice of the community and changed the developer guidelines for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Previously, their program for developers had a rule of "one developer, one license", and the distribution could only be deployed in a local environment. However, starting from February 2021, the entire team can participate in this program. The number of licenses was increased from 1 to 16. The reviewed conditions now allow installing the OS in instances of public cloud services, however only for software development purposes.
What Should You Do?
As the old proverb goes: "The best Linux is the one your sysadmin understands.". It is hard to argue. Although UNIX-like OS are based on the same principles, each distribution has its definitive characteristics, strengths, and weak spots, which largely determine the effectiveness of work with the IT infrastructure created on their basis. If you have been using a specific operating system for a long time, you have probably written hundreds of scripts sharpened and tweaked for the selected software environment. Of course, the complete rewriting is fraught with severe financial and time costs, not to mention potential loss if something goes wrong.
The most rational step is to migrate to a similar distribution. And in this case, the choice is quite diverse.
What Are The Options?
Oracle Linux is pretty much a duplicate of RHEL. It is completely compatible with existing applications on your CentOS server. Additionally, the company presented a useful conversion script for the automatic migration of production systems. It switches your CentOS Linux server to Oracle Linux and supports the 6th-8th OS versions. Oracle Linux closely follows the release cycle of RHEL.
Another notable alternative is a newcomer, AlmaLinux. This OS was developed as a response to the early termination of CentOS 8 support. AlmaLinux follows the basic principles and fundamentals of CentOS distribution.
AlmaLinux has a promising future with excellent chances to take the place of CentOS since the CloudLinux team has great experience in the development and maintenance of RH-based projects, and the company's newest product is based on RHEL. Their team has demonstrated what they can do by presenting the first stable build of the OS just four months after the first announcement. So, if this continues, they will be able to compete with Oracle Linux.
Rocky Linux is a CentOS fork led by the founder of CentOS, Greg Kurtzer. It is a community-enterprise OS designed to be entirely compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This distribution aims to function as a downstream build just like CentOS previously did, building releases after the upstream vendor adds them, not before.
So, given the fact that Rocky is also based on RHEL, the future of Rocky Linux seems to be solid. Most importantly, as a community-based distribution, it won't have some sudden changes of a commercial company, so Rocky users don't have to worry about something similar to the unexpected fate of CentOS 8, at least for now.
Now that you are familiar with a few alternatives to CentOS, it is time to decide which would be the best fit for you. If now you are using CentOS 8, you still have a few months to decide on the most suitable distribution and start planning your migration strategy. If your server has CentOS 7 installed, you have quite a while to decide on your options, but definitely do not upgrade to CentOS 8.
Keeping in mind everything we have mentioned previously, we recommend you choose one of the three alternative options mentioned above.