Linux kernel 4.14 gets a life extension, thanks to OpenELA

Could this be the first green shoot of enterprise vendors paying for long-term maintenance?

The Open Enterprise Linux Association (OpenELA) has stepped up to maintain Linux kernel version 4.14 - which went out of support in January - to the end of the year. But why that particular version?

In the first announcement from the OpenELA this year, the organization announced ongoing maintenance for kernel 4.14 last week. You can find the source code on GitHub, where the extended end-of-life date is given as December 2024.

This support extension is good news for anyone still running older kernels in production, but also, in context, slightly puzzling.

As we reported last September, the team maintaining the Linux kernel decided to cut the supported lifetime of the older Long Term Support kernel versions it was maintaining, and the oldest version still being supported – 4.14, released way back in November 2017 – got the chop. In January, LTS kernel supremo Greg Kroah-Hartman announced the final version, 4.14.336, and that marked the end of life for the oldest supported version of the kernel.

OpenELA came together in August 2023 as a cooperation between Oracle, SUSE, and Rocky Linux backers CIQ. Oracle maintains Oracle Linux, and CIQ is behind Rocky Linux – both of which are CentOS Linux-like, RHEL-compatible distros since Red Hat stopped sharing the CentOS source code with the world. SUSE also offers something analogous, although when it first appeared the company was quick to deny this.

Which is why it's slightly odd that OpenELA has chosen this particular kernel version. Sure, it's the oldest kernel version that recently got dropped by the kernel team, and as such, it's the obvious candidate for which to pick up and continue work.

The thing is, though, that kernel 4.14 is not used by any of the obvious candidate distros from Red Hat or RHEL derivatives. RHEL 7 used kernel 3.10, and RHEL 8 used kernel 4.18, as you can see from Red Hat's list of kernel versions. Over in SUSE land, according to that company's comparable list, later releases of SLE 12 used kernel 4.12, as originally used in SLE 15. SLE 15 later updated to 5.3 and then 5.14.

It also seems unlikely that the vendors behind OpenELA would offer support for rival distros, but just in case, we checked. Debian 9 came with kernel 4.9, Debian 10 with 4.19, and Ubuntu 18.04 with 4.15.

We went looking for distros still in current support that use kernel 4.14, and there is indeed one. It's from the extended family of CentOS offspring. Amazon's AWS offers several distros, noting that:

Amazon Linux 2 (AL2) is the current Amazon Linux release that is Generally Available.

Amazon Linux 2 went GA in 2018, and guess what default kernel version it used to come with?

The default kernel installed on Amazon Linux 2 instances is 4.14.x.

Although if you want something a little more recent, you can upgrade it to 5.10 or 5.15.

After OpenELA contacted us to tell us about the announcement, we asked why this particular version, and if there was any connection with AWS or Amazon Linux 2, but although we gave them a few working days, at the time of writing we have had not heard from them.

Currently, each of the the bigger distro vendors maintain their own kernel versions, and they all work separately. As we reported last year, RHEL kernel maintainer Jiří Benc told us that Red Hat feels its own kernel is more thoroughly tested than the community one.

Our feeling is that it would be beneficial for the greater Linux world if more of the enterprise vendors could agree to work together on the LTS kernels, for instance by ensuring that long-term supported distros used the upstream long-term supported kernel versions. It would be wonderful if this OpenELA initiative were a first step in that direction … rather than, perhaps, an as-yet-unnamed new project sponsor. ®

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