The Future of CentOS Linux and Big Changes in Features


Red Hat CTO Chris Wright and Community Manager Rich Bowen each announced the future of CentOS and big changes in functionality. Going forward, there will be no more CentOS Linux – instead there will be CentOS Stream.
Founded in 2019, CentOS Stream is a “rolling preview of what’s next for RHEL”. Red Hat CTO Chris Wright and CentOS Community Manager Rich Bowen each announced big changes to the future and capabilities of CentOS Linux. Going forward, there will be no more CentOS Linux – instead there will be CentOS Stream.

The Future of CentOS Linux and the Big Changes in Features The Future of CentOS Linux and the Big Changes in Features

What exactly is CentOS?
CentOS (abbreviation of Community Enterprise Linux Operating System) was established in 2004. The first release of CentOS in 2004 was named version 2 – to coincide with RHEL 2.1 at the time. Since then, each RHEL major release increment has resulted in a corresponding new major release of CentOS, following the same versioning scheme and built from largely the same sources.

Traditional CentOS is a free rebuild of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) operating system, built from RHEL’s own source code, but with the Red Hat proprietary branding removed and without Red Hat commercial support. This allows CentOS to enjoy binary compatibility with RHEL.

As a non-paid, hassle-free version of RHEL, CentOS appeals to a wider market of developers, patchers, and others who may eventually decide to upgrade to commercially supported RHEL. It also makes it easier for developers to build and manage development environments that will be guaranteed to be compatible with their commercially supported RHEL production environments.

Acquired CentOS in 2014
Although CentOS was and is a wildly popular distribution — for the past few years it was the most used web server distribution in the world — it has also suffered from community struggles. CentOS founder Lance Davis left the project in 2008, but retained control of its domain and finances. A year later, the CentOS team got in touch with Davis and regained control of the project, but that didn’t quite repair the significant damage to public perception of CentOS.

In 2014, the CentOS development team still has a distribution with a much larger market share than RHEL. So when Red Hat offered to work with the CentOS team on a distribution, it looked like a good deal for both parties. Red Hat took control of an entity it felt would affect its own brand reputation, and CentOS developers were offered Red Hat jobs, allowing them to work full-time on CentOS while still keeping things up and running.

Part of the deal involves a new CentOS Governance Council – one with a mandatory, permanent majority. Although the new deal was marketed as a partnership, it was an acquisition in name only—Red Hat now both funds and controls CentOS.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a chronically resource-hungry distro. Red Hat’s funding means more development time and less hassle – and was brought in to give CentOS access to RHEL’s legal team internally, and guarantee that any further trademark usage issues can be resolved amicably.

This puts CentOS in pretty much the same position as Fedora – a “community” distribution, but in fact, except for the name, it’s actually a Red Hat property. To be fair, Red Hat is widely and accurately considered the steward of the Fedora project, and for the next few years, the revamped CentOS project as well.

Goodbye CentOS Linux, hello CentOS Stream
The current version of CentOS is CentOS 8, which itself is built on top of RHEL 8. Typically, CentOS enjoys the same ten-year support lifecycle as RHEL itself — which would put CentOS 8’s end-of-life date in 2029. But the announcement puts forward an end of life for CentOS 8 as early as 2021.

Current CentOS users will need to migrate to RHEL itself or the newer CentOS Stream project, originally announced in September 2019. The distribution FAQ states that CentOS Stream will not be a “RHEL beta testing platform”, but CentOS Community Manager Rich Bowen’s own announcement describes Stream as “the upstream (development) branch of Red Hat Enterprise Linux”.

The line between a “development branch” and a “beta release” seems to us to be thin, and it seems to many CentOS community members the same way. Comments on the community announcement have been numerous and overwhelmingly negative.

Reborn as Rocky Linux
CentOS co-founder Greg Kurtzer was one of many community members unhappy with Red Hat’s decision to shut down CentOS Linux. Before CentOS, Kurtzer ran a Red Hat rebuild called Caos Linux. Kurtzer’s work was merged with that of Rocky McGough and Lance Davis to form the CentOS project.

Kurtzer issued the following press statement:

I am as shocked as the rest of the community by the news from Red Hat. When I started CentOS 16 years ago, I never could have imagined the incredible impact and impact it would have on individuals and companies around the world who rely on the CentOS for Linux distribution.

In response to this unexpected turn of events, I’m proud to announce a new project, Rocky Linux, in honor of my late CentOS co-founder Rocky McGough. I have initiated a call to the global community to engage and quickly assemble a team to deliver on our founding commitment to ensure seamless continuity of business operations for companies running CentOS 8 beyond 2021. In just one day, we saw thousands of backers eager to join the project.

It seems likely that the same market pressures that drove the original creation of CentOS will drive it to become an independent community project again.