On December 8, 2020, Red Hat CTO Chris Wright announced that the popular Linux distribution CentOS will only receive support (and security fixes) until 2021 (instead of the originally announced 2029).
Put differently: thousands of CentOS users who counted on the availability of security updates for the foreseeable future are now left in the cold and need to migrate their systems in the next 12 months. While this may sound like a long time, it is actually a gigantic pressure since there may be hundreds or even thousands of machines per company, all running different applications, that need to be migrated and tested.
It is unclear why Red Hat decided that the middle of a pandemic is a suitable time for such a move. But the more urgent question is: what are CentOS users supposed to do now?
There are excellent articles such as this one that explain why the migration to the new CentOS Stream distribution is not a real alternative if stability is a requirement. Moving to other established distributions such as Debian or Ubuntu is of course an option, but creates lots of other problems down the road.
CentOS is dead, long live Rocky Linux!
If only there was a new Linux distribution also based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL); maybe with a strong community and a founder with open source experience; such a distribution would immediately attract interest among the Linux community and be able to gather thousands of followers behind them that are now (rightly) affronted by the actions of Red Hat. Enter Rocky Linux.
Gregory Kurtzer was among the creators of the original CentOS distribution before it was acquired by Red Hat. Soon after Red Hat’s announcement, he started creating a community to quickly develop a successor of CentOS: Rocky Linux. His goal: what happened to CentOS won’t happen again.
Building a community that scales
While CentOS was an immensely popular distribution, the developer community behind it was rather small. Before Red Hat took over control, there were only a couple of people working on it and the team had trouble meeting release deadlines. Having a small community was a strategic mistake for CentOS; a mistake that Gregory didn’t want to repeat in Rocky Linux.
But having a big community is only possible if the infrastructure and security of the project can support it. This is why the whole Rocky team is now striving for a state-of-the-art build infrastructure that allows more people to participate while still being able to meet the high-security standards expected from such a project. Instead of building the packages right away and creating a release as soon as possible, Rocky wants to get everything right: a well-defined infrastructure, scalable CI/CD-based processes, and a high amount of trust and integrity.
A tight deadline: initial release by Q2
With only eleven months until Red Hat drops the support for CentOS 8, the clock is ticking; since system administrators will need at least several months for a system migration, everyone expects Rocky to release a testable release candidate soon. The team is well aware of these expectations and has announced the availability of the first Rocky release candidate on March 31 2021.
Why this will be the one and only CentOS alternative
The acquisition of CentOS by Red Hat has shown one thing: nothing good happens when a private company alone is trusted with the keys to a free operating system a huge number of people depend on. Many of us learned this the hard way, and it is the reason why people will not move to a “kind of free-ish” RHEL, a CentOS clone made by another for-profit company or… Oracle. No, they will turn their head to one of the fastest-growing open source communities since MariaDB forked MySQL and be thankful that there are still people such as Gregory Kurtzer.
An excellent podcast with Gregory Kurtzer: https://changelog.com/podcast/427