On Tuesday, December 8th, Red Hat and CentOS announced the end of CentOS 8. To be specific, CentOS 8 will reach end of life at the end of 2021, 8 years ahead of schedule. To really understand what that means, and how we got here, it’s worth taking a trip down memory lane, and looking at how the history of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), CentOS, and IBM are intertwined.
Red hat started way back in 1995, with the partnership between Bob Young and Marc Ewing. Ewing brought his nascent Linux distro, named Red Hat Linux after the
fedora red lacrosse cap Ewing was known for wearing. Red Hat Linux quickly introduced a set of killer features, such as the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM), the Anaconda installer, and ELF binaries, to name a few. By 2003, Red Hat Linux was split into two separate distros, RHEL and Fedora Core. RHEL was the subscription-only distribution, while Fedora Core was the bleeding-edge distribution available for free. Just a note, I was running Fedora on my machines since before they dropped “Core” from the name.
The RHEL product, while open source, is only available for paid subscribers, or developers in non-production environments. Because it’s open source, there is nothing preventing a third party from removing the branding, and recompiling the packages for free. This is exactly what Gregory Kurtzer and the other founding members of CentOS did back in 2004. CentOS version 2 was the first such release, bringing an Enterprise Linux to the Community.
The next bit of history we have to cover was in 2009, when Lance Davis went missing from the project. This was a problem, because Davis held the project domain registrations, the donations fund, and some of the other intellectual property of the project. There was a possibility that this would kill the project, but Davis finally responded to a published open letter from the project, and agreed to hand over control. Crisis averted.
In 2014, an important change was announced. Red Hat would officially sponsor CentOS. Several of the core CentOS team would go full time on the Red Hat payroll, Red Hat got a trio of seats on the governing board, and most importantly, the community was assured that “The CentOS Linux platform isn’t changing.” It wasn’t made entirely clear, but part of the deal included transferring the CentOS trademarks and IP to Red Hat for safe keeping.
This arrangement worked out well for years. CentOS 8 shipped September 2019, rapidly after RHEL 8, and CentOS Stream was announced and released as an early look at what was coming in the next minor update. CentOS Stream could be thought of as a polished beta channel.
IBM bought Red Hat in 2019. Part of the announcement was a promise that Red Hat would stay true to its Open Source roots, claiming that “Red Hat’s mission and unwavering commitment to open source will remain unchanged.” Even with such assurances, many users were concerned that the IBM acquisition would fundamentally alter the way Red Hat does businesses for the worse.
Where Are We Now
With this context in mind, the recent news is troubling. Many of us have deployed CentOS servers to production environments, trusting Red Hat’s promise that CentOS 8 would be supported through 2029. The Red Hat announcement means that those installs reach end of life after less than 2 years, with the only upgrade path being Centos Stream — AKA being a forced beta tester for RHEL. As you might imagine, the response from the community has not been positive. We feel betrayed and lied to. It’s unclear whether this decision was handed down from IBM, or was cooked up by Red Hat themselves. In any case, it’s become painfully clear that handing over control of CentOS was a terrible mistake.
For those of us who prefer RPM based systems, where does that leave us? Fedora is great, but the rapid development cadence is terrible for server deployment. OpenSUSE Leap is a rebuild of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, much like CentOS, and is a viable option for new deployments.
In the comments on the CentOS announcement, Gregory Kurtzer asked for users and developers interested in a reboot to check in on one of his slack channels. Within 8 hours, over 250 of us showed up, wanting to make a CentOS replacement happen. I’ve talked directly with Gregory, and can confirm that a new community rebuild of RHEL is happening under the name Rocky Linux, in honor of one of another CentOS co-founder that has passed away. The plan is to support a direct transition path from CentOS to Rocky Linux.
Rocky Linux will be bug-for-bug compatible with RHEL. It will be CentOS as it was before the Red Hat takeover, just under a new name. I’m excited to see where the project goes, and hopeful to see an initial release in the following months. When it happens, we’ll be sure to tell you about it.