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Rocky Linux is go: CentOS founder's new project aims to be 100% compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Rocking the Red Hat boat with an alternative distro designed for production use

Gregory Kurtzer, the founder of the CentOS project, has kicked off a new venture called Rocky Linux, the aim being to build "a community enterprise operating system designed to be 100 per cent bug-for-bug compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)".

Just days after Red Hat CTO Chris Wright declared that "we will shift our investments to CentOS Stream exclusively on December 31, 2021," the Rocky Linux project has been formed with a new distro "currently under major intensive development by the community," although there is "no ETA at present for a release."

CentOS Linux and CentOS Stream are free community distributions. The problem with CentOS Stream is that it is a development build, although one that is only just ahead of the production release of RHEL. This makes it unsuitable for production use.


CentOS project changes focus, no more rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux – you'll have to flow with the Stream


The new project's name is a tribute to CentOS co-founder Rocky McGaugh. "He is no longer with us, so as a H/T to him, who never got to see the success that CentOS came to be, I introduce to you... Rocky Linux," said Kurtzer.

The project (such as it is) is on GitHub, though most activity is on a Discourse forum where there is discussion about build infrastructure, branding, whether there might be a Rocky Linux Foundation, and more. Some of the people who have stepped up to help are listed here.

Hayden Young, a software developer and DevOps engineer based at a small company in Sheffield in the UK, has taken on a role as Web/DNS lead for Rocky Linux. "We've just been deploying a bunch of CentOS 8 servers and for them to deliver this news has been quite a blow," he told us.

What's wrong with CentOS Stream? "It is going to be upstream to RHEL instead of downstream," he said. "It's being used as a development platform more than a free, incredibly stable, secure operating system. And with that is going to come a lot of problems with updates, support long-term and things like that."

Does Rocky Linux have the momentum it needs to succeed? "Too soon to call," he said, "but since Greg's comment, we went from zero to about 750 people in two-and-a-half days," meaning people signing up to the Slack group, Discourse forum or IRC (internet chat) channels.

A lot of people have pointed at the IBM takeover as the start of all this

What is the hope in terms of getting a first distro out? "An optimistic view would be middle to end of Q1 next year, pessimistic closer to halfway through 2021. We will definitely have something ready well in advance of the end of 2021" – which is when CentOS 8 goes out of support.

What if Red Hat changed its mind and continued with CentOS Linux? "A lot of people have pointed at the IBM takeover as the start of all this," said Young. "It was always something that was going to happen. The switch to focusing on CentOS Stream is just the final nail in the coffin."

Why not just switch to RHEL? "A lot of smaller companies, like the one I work for, are not going to say that is a viable use of money," he said. "A lot of money for something that CentOS was providing free of charge."

Red Hat has stated that "the code is open source and we wouldn't try to stop anyone from choosing to use it or build their own packages from the code." Rocky Linux will not be the only one.

The CEO of CloudLinux, Igor Seletskiy, said: "CloudLinux OS has never depended on CentOS. Our software was and continues to be a fork of RedHat EL. We base our packages on sources provided by RedHat... We will create a separate, totally free OS that is fully binary compatible with RHEL 8 (and future versions)."

A petition, "Do not destroy CentOS by using it as a RHEL upstream", launched by web hosting company Spry Servers has attracted nearly 4,000 signatures. "CentOS powers almost 19 per cent of all Linux web servers globally," it states – a figure perhaps drawn from here, which puts CentOS second after Ubuntu for Linux web servers, with 18.8 per cent share, way ahead of Red Hat at 1.8 per cent. "Making CentOS a test distribution, it completely destroys its usefulness as the stable, free, enterprise ready operating system," the petition claims.

One thing that Red Hat has not stated is why it is ceasing development of CentOS Linux. The most likely reason is that the company questioned why it was sponsoring an alternative to its commercial offering, as hinted in community manager Rich Bowen's statement: "If you... are concerned that CentOS Stream will not meet your needs, we encourage you to contact Red Hat about options."

Licensing RHEL is expensive and it is unlikely that a high proportion of CentOS users will switch. The existence of community builds is not altogether bad for Red Hat's business since it increases the market for compatible applications and size of the pool of those with RHEL administration skills.

Whether or not Rocky Linux takes off, there will still be RHEL community builds out there, though no longer actively sponsored by the company. ®

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