Linux 4.14's long-term support will live on after all, thanks to this alliance

The six-year-old Linux kernel seemed doomed until this alliance of CIQ, Oracle, and SUSE stepped up. But why go to all this trouble?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Getty Images

Until recently, Linux kernel developers have been the ones keeping long-term support (LTS) versions of the Linux kernel patched and up to date. Then, because it was too much work with too little support, the Linux kernel developers decided to no longer support the older kernels. Greg Kroah-Hartman, the Linux kernel maintainer for the stable branch, announced that the Linux 4.14.336 release was the last maintenance update to the six-year-old LTS Linux 4.14 kernel series. It was the last of the line for 4.14. Or was it?

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Kroah-Hartman had stated, "All users of the 4.14 kernel series must upgrade." Maybe not. OpenELA, a trade association of the Linux distributors CIQ, the company backing Rocky Linux, Oracle, and SUSE, is now offering -- via its kernel-lts -- a new lease on life for 4.14.

This renewed version, tagged with the following format -- x.y.z-openela --  is already out as v4.14.339-openela. The OpenELA acknowledges the large debt they owe to Kroah-Hartman and Sasha Levin of the Linux Kernel Stable project but underlines that their project is not affiliated with them or any of the other upstream stable maintainers. 

That said, the OpenELA team will automatically pull most LTS-maintained stable tree patches from the upstream stable branches. When there are cases where patches can't be applied cleanly, OpenELA kernel-lts maintainers will deal with these issues. In addition,  a digest of non-applied patches will accompany each release of its LTS kernel, in mbox format.

While developers are encouraged to submit patches to the OpenELA's mailing list or via Github, the OpenELA stable kernel maintainers will not accept patches that are not part of the mainline Linux kernel. Patches that are not applicable to upstream Linux are considered out-of-scope.

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In addition, this new stable kernel tree will follow all the upstream stable rules. It also won't target specific hardware, vendors, or users, and the patches will be selected primarily from ongoing upstream stable kernels.

In short, the kernel-lts project is in no way a fork. Instead as Oracle Linux SVP Greg Marsden noted, "The OpenELA kernel-lts project is the first forum for enterprise Linux distribution vendors to pool our resources and collaborate on those older kernels after upstream support for those kernels has ended." 

Why go to all this trouble?  (And, trust me, this is a lot of trouble.) CIQ CEO Gregory Kurtzer explained: "As enterprise distribution vendors, we are often tasked to keep software viable even after community support has ended. We believe that open collaboration is the best way to maintain foundational enterprise infrastructure. Through OpenELA, vendors, users, and the open source community at large can work together to provide the longevity that professional IT organizations require for enterprise Linux."

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So, if your business is still using Linux kernel 4.14 -- I know some of you are -- you need to check out the OpenELA kernel. For now, OpenELA will support 4.14 for the rest of 2024. When the next mainstream LTS Linux kernel, Linux kernel 4.19 LTS, comes to the end of its road -- in December 2024 -- OpenELA may extend it a helping hand as well if there's enough demand for it. 

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