Learn about the three most popular CentOS clones

Learn about the three most popular CentOS clones

It created an odd situation in which CentOS 7 users who did the right thing and upgraded to CentOS 8 as soon as possible were left with an OS with only a year’s official support remaining, while CentOS 7 users continue to receive full support until June 30, 2024.

The Linux community was caught off guard in December 2020, when Red Hat abruptly announced that the official CentOS 8 support window will be trimmed from ten years to only two, with support expiring on December 31, 2021, as part of a change in the way Red Hat supports and develops CentOS.

Worse, the fact that CentOS stable releases have been phased out in favour of CentOS Stream means that most CentOS 8 customers will have to choose CentOS Stream to safeguard their workloads.

Red Hat’s unexpected decision underlined to what degree software users depend on official support windows for their software security. Countless organizations are now left scrambling to secure or replace CentOS 8 – or run the risk of relying on an OS that’s no longer supported, with no official fixes for new vulnerabilities.

Want to run an enterprise-grade Linux OS and do so free of charge, while enjoying an official, predictable support window? That was the deal with CentOS.

The CentOS project has its roots in an independent project that produced a 1:1 binary compatible clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Every CentOS release was perfectly matched to RHEL – any applications that work on a RHEL release also worked on the matching CentOS release, simple as that.

CentOS was eventually taken over by Red Hat. Red Hat’s oversight brought some benefits including fixed reliable support windows which, for recent releases, was set to ten years. These support windows really matter: organizations that run thousands of Linux instances require a predictable support window to plan upgrades or migrations.

And that’s why CentOS was such a good deal. CentOS was a free enterprise-grade Linux OS supported by a big enterprise Linux player – including what everyone thought was bullet-proof support commitments.

CentOS is not dead. Red Hat will continue to release new versions of CentOS through CentOS Stream, but it is a rolling release: updates can come at any time, and it will inevitably mean that CentOS Stream is quickly out of sync with the most recent RHEL release. Packages intended for a future RHEL release are guaranteed to land in CentOS Stream first before these packages are published into a fixed RHEL release.

In other words, users that run CentOS Stream simply won’t know what updates will come their way, and in which ways these upgrades will break binary compatibility with RHEL. Losing binary compatibility means users lose the guarantee that an application certified for a RHEL release will work with a matching CentOS release – and for CentOS Stream users, that could happen at any point in time.

The fact that CentOS Stream breaks binary compatibility with RHEL complicates the efforts to secure CentOS 8 now that it is unexpectedly end of life. So while CentOS lives on as CentOS Stream, the key characteristics that made CentOS so appealing are now gone.

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