Wait, What Does Red Hat Have To Do With This?Here’s the short, short version of the history of CentOS: Red Hat (an OS developer) has two Linux distributions of its own and has had for a long time. There’s the free and community-focused Fedora and the business-focused highly expensive Red Hat Enterprise Linux (AKA RHEL). Funny story: RHEL, despite its expensive licenses, is still mostly made from open source code, which anyone can access and use. And it’s a good OS, particularly for people who like stability. In 2004, some smart people took all the open-source parts of RHEL and made a brand new, nearly identical operating system with it: the Community Enterprise Operating System, or CentOS. Basically, people could download and use an enterprise-level server OS for free. All the documentation for RHEL was compatible, and you could get support from the community. It was the perfect alternative for anyone who didn’t have the budget for expensive software licenses. In 2014, Red Hat offered to partner with the CentOS community. The idea was basically this: “It’s pretty much the same software. If our company and your community work together, both our products will be better! We make our money from enterprise customers, anyway.” Most importantly, with Red Hat doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of updates and support, the CentOS community could focus on growing in other ways. Red Hat pinky swore  that they were in this for the long haul, and CentOS did continue to flourish. You know, until 2020.
Well, So Much For Pinky SwearingRed Hat must have eventually decided that having a popular free version of its own enterprise software and managing it themselves no less — wasn’t that good for business. So they all but shut the project down. Well, technically, they just changed how it operated. Instead of producing tested, production-ready versions, CentOS is merely a testing ground for RHEL. It is no longer, in my opinion, a good option for anyone who wants to run a stable server.
Current and Future CentOS AlternativesSo if you jumped on the CentOS 8 bandwagon, what should you put on your physical and virtual servers now? Well, you’ve got options.
Debian / UbuntuFor those who don’t mind going to a very different kind of Linux, Debian has been the picture of OS stability and sysadmin-friendliness for a long time. If you want more frequent software updates, the Debian-based Ubuntu Server is popular and pretty good.
Oracle LinuxYes, that Oracle has a RHEL-compatible Linux distribution of its own. But it’s not a clone, exactly. I mean, this is Oracle. It’s set up to use their tools and ecosystem, so I hope you like Oracle products. But hey, the OS itself is free!
ClearOSClearOS is another RHEL-compatible OS that’s mostly doing its own thing, though I’m not entirely sure what that thing is. Does the company have some deal with Hewlett-Packard? Anyway, they do have a free community edition and paid editions for home and business use.
The CloudLinux RHEL ForkThis is an upcoming release from the makers of CloudLinuxOS. It looks like they intend to load the new RHEL-based OS with some of their own tools, such as reboot-less server update tech. The first release is intended to be a more or less drop-in replacement for CentOS 8.
Rocky LinuxSo the community that made and loved CentOS in the first place is, to say the least, ticked. They are so ticked that Greg Kurtzer (a co-founder of CentOS) has decided to do it all over again by making Rocky Linux and keep it in the community this time. Again, the goal is to make a re-build of RHEL, a drop-in replacement for CentOS (at least for now). Eventually, the goal is to migrate from CentOS to Rocky Linux as easy as using a single, one-line command. The ETA for initial release isn’t quite set in stone, but I can personally vouch for how hard the community is working. [See, full disclosure here… after writing this article, I joined the Rocky Linux documentation team.]
So Yeah, You Have OptionsSome are out now, and others will be soon. Again, CentOS 8 will be supported until the end of 2021. CentOS 7, weirdly, will be supported until June 2024. Migration shouldn’t be too complicated. Still, a pain in the rear that we have to do this at all, though.
Ezequiel Bruni is a web/UX designer, blogger, and aspiring photographer living in Mexico. When he’s not up to his finely-chiselled ears in wire-frames and front-end code, or ranting about the same, he indulges in beer, pizza, fantasy novels, and stand-up comedy.