The CentOS project recently announced that CentOS is radically changing. Let’s talk about what’s new with this Linux distro.
What is CentOS?
CentOS – “Community Enterprise OS” – is a downstream version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). RHEL is Red Hat’s premium enterprise Linux operating system, which emphasizes production-grade stability. For many years, the CentOS project took the same sources and patches that made up RHEL and recompiled them into CentOS, which was freely available. Thus you could obtain the same binaries that were used for RHEL for free. This was completely legal under the licenses used by RHEL (predominantly the GNU Public License). Many users appreciated the ability to “get RHEL for free” and benefit from Red Hat’s development work in bringing a very stable, well-tested Linux OS to the market.
In January 2014, CentOS announced it was joining Red Hat. In July of 2019, IBM acquired Red Hat.
Previously, CentOS was downstream of Red Hat. CentOS announced recently they are moving to a position upstream of Red Hat and will now serve as a development test bed for RHEL. It will now be called “CentOS Stream”.
Additionally, CentOS’s 5-year long-term support timeframe was cut to 2 years. This changes CentOS 8’s EOL to 2021.
What is the impact?
For many users, this dramatically changes the value proposition offered by CentOS. Prior to this change, CentOS was regarded as being as good as RHEL, since it was the same binaries (in fact, the only difference was the name and trademarked art). Even shops that paid for RHEL for their production nodes would often use CentOS for their development systems.
Now, CentOS will be a different animal than RHEL entirely. Just because something works on RHEL no longer means it will also work on CentOS.
The change of EOL was also highly significant. Part of the RHEL/CentOS value was that you could deploy it and receive security patches for up to 5 years without having to upgrade the OS. Patching for security is usually trivial while upgrading major releases is not.
As an example consider Dreamhost, which used Debian for years on their thousands of servers. They switched to Ubuntu solely so they would not have to upgrade as frequently. Companies with high uptime requirements and many systems often prize long maintenance lifecycles.
Probably those suffering the most are users who just upgraded to CentOS 8, thinking they had years of support left. Easy for them to feel the rug has been yanked out from under them.
Ironically, CentOS 7 will be supported until 2024 – three years after CentOS 8 is no longer supported.
Why was this change made?
I guess it depends on your perspective.
If you’re RedHat, it “provides a platform for rapid innovation at the community level but with a stable enough base to understand production dynamics. These changes and feedback can more quickly be channeled into productization, resulting in Linux platforms that meet the needs of an incredibly varied user base.”
If you’re more cynical, you might surmise that IBM – which paid $34 billion for RedHat – sees CentOS as a threat to RHEL sales. By changing the product into something that is markedly different from RHEL, they force users to choose between using non-RHEL or paying for RHEL.
Wait, isn’t Fedora a testbed for RHEL? How is CentOS Stream different?
It does seem confusing. Most likely, Fedora is “bleeding edge,” CentOS Stream will be “closer to polished”, and RHEL will continue to be “well-tested” but time will tell.
I hate this change!
You can certainly sign a petition to try and change IBM’s mind. But it’s their software and they can do what they want with it.
Is there any hope for going back to the way things were?
Probably not with CentOS but if you mean “RHEL for free,” then yes. There are three options to consider:
Of course, there are other quality Linux distros, including Debian and Ubuntu.