Community marketing on Centos' grave

I'm having a bit of a digital tidy up this month (think of it as my holiday!). One of the loose ends I wanted to sort was the "Centos problem". I've reluctantly settled on AlmaLinux (for now).

The Centos problem

I set up two Centos 8 VPS servers just before Red Hat announced that "the future of the Centos project is Centos Stream". In a way I'm fine with that. The servers are mostly a toy, so using a Centos version that's just ahead of RHEL isn't much of a deal. It's even quite interesting, as Centos Stream gives you a bit of an insight into where RHEL is heading. And I also get the logic behind Red Hat's decision. But still, the announcement reads like a long "fuck you" to Centos users. And it just doesn't look good to cut the support for an operating system by nearly eight years.

What to replace Centos with?

I've been following the drama with interest, and I decided fairly early on that AlmaLinux was the primary contender. I like the fact that the project is backed by CloudLinux. They know how to clone RHEL, and the company seems to have a sensible business plan that makes AlmaLinux viable. I guess Rocky Linux is fine as well. They certainly got better documentation, and it has a bit more of a community feel.

None of the other alternatives appealed to me. I'm not interested in Red Hat's free offerings; I don't want the subsciption hassle, and I don't want to be bitten twice. OpenSUSE is always on my mind when it comes to distro hopping, but it's just a little too different. I would need to learn things like AppArmor, which I somehow see as a major hurdle. In short, I really just wanted another Centos.

We are a community

The reason I didn't bite the bullet months ago is that AlmaLinux seems to be very keen to explain that it's a project "for the community, by the community". It seems quite obvious that it's nothing like that. Sure, at some point there will be "community members" on the board, but getting the likes of cPanel involved has been a much higher priority.

Just to be clear, I think it's an excellent idea to have big companies involved. My point is that I find it interesting that all the RHEL clones that have sprung up claim to be a "community project". I really don't think they're putting in all the time, money and effort out of a desire to do good. There are of course distros that are true community projects – Debian and FreeBSD spring to mind – but AlmaLinux and Rocky don't fit that category. As said, AlmaLinux was created by CloudLinux and it's not difficult to see how AlmaLinux may benefit CloudLinux. Apart from commercial partnerships, brand recognition and goodwill it will be quite easy for hosting companies to migrate from AlmaLinux to CloudLinux (and become a paying customer). Similarly, Rocky's main sponsor is a new company called CIQ, which was founded by the same person who founded Rocky Linux and whose business model is making money from Rocky Linux. In short, they're both distros that were created to be monitised.

Again, I don't think there's anything wrong with making money from an open source operating system. Although my opinion of Red Hat has somewhat changed, I do appreciate they're doing lots of good work – and that work needs to be paid for somehow. Projects like Debian and FreeBSD are lovely, but it's a fact that pretty much all interesting new technologies are made in Raleigh. I'm still running Silverblue, for instance.

So, it are the dubious / disingenuous "we are a community project" claims that bother me. To illustrate the point, AlmaLinux's community manager – who's wages are paid by CloudLinux – recently went on the Linux Unplugged podcast to badmouth Rocky Linux because of the project's link to CIQ. He made a valid point, but to say it wasn't very elegant is an understatement. And last night Joe Ressington read out an AlmaLinux advert on one of his Okay, this episode is sponsored by… podcasts ("remember that for five dollars or more per month you can get an ad-free RSS feed"). There's clearly a marketing budget to convince the community that AlmaLinux is a community project. It's all a bit odd.

Perhaps my dislike of marketing is making me see things that aren't really there. But then, try to imagine AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux merging, so that they form one big, happy community. I really can't see that happening. The commercial stakes are just too high…

So yes, I've switched to AlmaLinux but I don't feel I'm now part of a new community. I really just want my free Centos replacement.