Make Linux, not war? AlmaLinux opts for kinder, gentler course in RHEL clone conflict

Oracle, SUSE, and Rocky Linux are all taking aggressive stances against Red Hat's new rules for using Red Hat Enterprise Linux open-source code. AlmaLinux, however, is taking a more amicable approach.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

 The Foundation hopes that its strategic shift will cause minimal disruption to AlmaLinux users. RHEL-compatible applications should continue to function seamlessly on AlmaLinux OS. 

When Red Hat announced that Red Hat Enterprise Linux's (RHEL) source code would no longer be easily available, it rocked the world of RHEL clones such as AlmaLinux, Oracle Linux, and Rocky Linux. The fight was on! 

Oracle trash-talked Red Hat and vowed to maintain RHEL compatibility. The Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation will use other methods to get RHEL code. SUSE, with some help from Rocky, will fork RHEL

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And what about AlmaLinux? The AlmaLinux OS Foundation board "has decided to drop the aim to be 1:1 with RHEL. AlmaLinux OS will instead aim to be Application Binary Interface (ABI) compatible."

OK, I didn't see that coming. While everyone else is shaking their fists at Red Hat, AlmaLinux is taking a much calmer approach.

The AlmaLinux Board voted unanimously to "continue to aim to produce an enterprise-grade, long-term distribution of Linux that is aligned and ABI compatible with RHEL in response to our community's needs, to the extent it is possible to do, such that software that runs on RHEL will run the same on AlmaLinux." In short, AlmaLinux'sintends to continue creating an enterprise-grade, long-lasting Linux distribution that aligns with RHEL to cater to the community's needs.

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To do this, it appears AlmaLinux will use the CentOS Stream source code that Red Hat continues to offer to everyone. The change in methods will require an overhaul in the development and build processes. Moving forward, users can expect detailed comments on patches that include the source of the applied patch, promoting transparency. Also, bug reporters will be asked to test and replicate the issue in CentOS Stream, optimizing the team's troubleshooting efforts.

According to AlmaLinux chairperson benny Vasquez, the precise goal is "ABI compatibility [which] in our case means working to ensure that applications built to run on RHEL (or RHEL clones) can run without issue on AlmaLinux. Adjusting to this expectation removes our need to ensure that everything we release is an exact copy of the source code that you would get with RHEL."

Maintaining ABI compatibility may be easier than it appears. Red Hat already publishes a programming guide for Application Programming Interface (API) and ABI compatibility. 

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The Foundation hopes that its strategic shift will cause minimal disruption to AlmaLinux users. RHEL-compatible applications should continue to function seamlessly on AlmaLinux OS. Users, AlmaLinux promises, can expect regular security updates. 

However, the new direction liberates AlmaLinux from the "bug-for-bug compatibility" with Red Hat. Putting a positive spin on it, AlmaLinux's position is that the team can accept bug fixes outside Red Hat's release cycle, potentially encountering unique bugs but also capable of patching bugs not yet addressed by Red Hat.

Vasquez added, "While all of these changes open up a lot of opportunities, we want to be clear about the fact that we are still dedicated to being good open-source citizens. We'll continue to contribute upstream in Fedora and CentOS Stream and to the greater Enterprise Linux ecosystem, just as we have been doing since our inception, and we invite our community to do the same!"

Some users like this approach. As one Reddit reader put it, "This announcement restored our confidence in AlmaLinux, and I don't think there will be a need to migrate to Debian anytime soon."

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Joe Brockmeier, an open-source community expert, and former Red Hatter, appreciates what AlmaLinux is doing. "The Alma community has chosen to be the friendly fork. Rather than throwing stones at Red Hat and trying to drag another member of the open-source community down, they considered the options carefully and came up with a solution that looks like it can be good for everybody."

Will this approach be good for AlmaLinux? Time will tell. 

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