AlmaLinux Foundation chair says he stepped down to highlight value of community status

Igor Seletskiy, the founder of the AlmaLinux distro created in December 2020 as an alternative to CentOS, has explained that he stepped down as chair of the AlmaLinux Foundation in an effort to strengthen its community status - though his company still dominates the board.

AlmaLinux is one of several distros to have sprung up, or demanded renewed attention, in the aftermath of Red Hat's decision to make CentOS a late preview of what will become Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) rather than a binary-compatible rebuild. Other contenders include Rocky Linux, founded by an original co-founder of CentOS, and Oracle Linux. AlmaLinux originated as a project of CloudLinux, a company and commercial distro which already tracked RHEL, and of which Seletskiy is CEO.

At the end of March an AlmaLinux Foundation was formed to own the trademarks and, in the words of its bylaws, "to develop and maintain a no registration, ad free, stable, open source Linux distribution for the benefit of and free use by the general public."

Seletski said yesterday that he stepped down as chair of the AlmaLinux Foundation board in order to "highlight the fact that CloudLinux and TuxCare don't have control over AlmaLinux OS Foundation."

TuxCare is a brand of CloudLinux which offers Linux support services including for AlmaLinux. The chair of the AlmaLinux Foundation board is now Benny Vasquez, who also manages developer relations and community for Chef at Progress.

How independent is AlmaLinux from CloudLinux? The relationship remains a close one, and Seletskiy is shown on the official Wiki as a "regular guest attendee" at board meetings. The reason AlmaLinux was able to get off the ground quickly - more quickly than Rocky Linux - was that it came from a company already building a distro from the open source RHEL code.

The Wiki notes that the build/test system was not open source (though this is work in progress). Two of the five remaining board members are CloudLinux employees, and one would imagine that together with Seletskiy as "guest attendee" that means the company still has a strong voice at meetings.

Boot of a different kind

There is a point of interest regarding Secure Boot, which requires an EV (Extended Validation) certificate and a shim bootloader signed by Microsoft. It is a big deal, since without it secure boot must be disabled before the operating system will install. Rocky Linux still does not support Secure Boot though it looks close: the latest is that the Shim Review was accepted last week though the Microsoft cross-signing of the shim has not yet taken place.

AlmaLinux has had Secure Boot for months, but the reason (according to the Wiki) is that "currently, we use the same EV certificate for both CloudLinux and AlmaLinux shim bootloaders. It is registered to CloudLinux Inc. If we want to have a separate bootloader/certificate for AlmaLinux, we need to buy another EV key, put it into a bare metal server, build a new shim, get it reviewed by Red Hat, and signed by Microsoft again."

Seletski said yesterday that "In our view, the lack of proper ownership structure is what allowed Red Hat to acquire the CentOS project in the first place, and EOL CentOS 8 later on. The CentOS project was never a non-profit organization and lacked proper governance - that was its weakest point."

By way of contrast, Rocky Linux founder Greg Kurtzer told the Register that forming a non-profit "is not a guarantee of integrity and honesty and good behaviour" for a Foundation - with reference not to AlmaLinux, but to his own history with the Caos Foundation which was once the host of CentOS.

That said, Seletski said that he has made efforts to make AlmaLinux a community operating system whose corporate sponsors will be funding "FIPS certification (and any other certifications needed by the community), send contributors to related conferences, and promote AlmaLinux. According to Seletski, "we want to expand AlmaLinux beyond where CentOS was used."

Selectski stepping down as chair does not remove the Foundation's close ties to CloudLinux, but that does not make it a sign of bad faith.

It goes without saying that the future of both AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux also depends on the continuing success of RHEL. According to Simon Phipps, another AlmaLinux board member, "community downstreams of RHEL created the market that Red Hat then monetized," and he sees these community distros as beneficial rather than harmful to commercial RHEL. ®

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