The main players among the RHEL rebuilders have caught up... but it's possibly too soon to tell if this market is going to survive Red Hat's moves.
Even in the fast-moving world of online journalism, deadlines still bite, and the very day that we brought you the news of RHEL 9.3 and AlmaLinux 9.3, Oracle also put out its corresponding version: Oracle Unbreakable Linux 9 update 3. Yesterday, the Rocky Linux project followed suit with its version 9.3.
For now, despite Red Hat's moves to shut them down, the world of the RHELatives keeps turning, and although neither company's release announcements mention it, it could be that these two releases owe something to Oracle and Rocky's partnership in the new OpenELA alliance.
The aim of the CentOS Linux rebuilds was always to be as close to a recompiled version of RHEL as humanly possible, just with the serial numbers filed off names changed. The additional value that the rebuilders delivered, aside from saving you possibly quite a lot of money, was in their support communities, as well as in additional tools over and above what Red Hat provided. So, for instance, Oracle offers an optional kernel with Btrfs support, and AlmaLinux offers its ELevate tool which performs in-place upgrades from one major version to another - something which, remarkably as it sounds to users of other distros, wasn't a built-in function of RHEL in the old days. Red Hat, as we have noted before, lives on its own small but very luxurious island in the Linux ocean, paying little heed to the goldfish shoals nibbling at its toes.
As such, the differences between these two product versions and RHEL 9.3 are not huge. They have pretty much the same new features and the same new component versions as you will also find in AlmaLinux 9.3, or indeed in RHEL itself, so you can refer back to last week's coverage for those.
Oracle Linux differs from the others in two main ways: It doesn't support as many different CPU architectures, and Oracle offers its own kernel with some additional features, notably Btrfs support.
Shortly before announcing version 9.3, Oracle also launched release 7 update 2 of what it calls its Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK). An interesting detail is that it's based on Linux 5.15, and not the 5.14 that RHEL uses. This could be one way that Oracle is trying to find a way around Red Hat's now harder-to-access upstream kernel sources. This release includes support for In-Band authentication for NVMe drives in storage fabrics, and for AMD's Last Branch Record Extension Version 2, plus better handling of SYN flood attacks.
As for the other big difference: Oracle only supports the big two CPU architectures, x86-64 and Arm64; it doesn't include the POWER and IBM mainframe support found in RHEL, Alma and Rocky. An interesting addendum to these two differences can be found in the release notes:
Rocky Linux 9.3 will also prove hauntingly familiar. The project highlights some different features in its release notes. Cloud and container images are available again for POWER, specifically for the ppc64le architecture. These were not available for the 9.2 release, possibly due to the Python bug the project highlighted that time around.
This time, however, there were problems building the KDE live image, so that's staying on version 9.2 for now. As we noted last time, these live images are another point of differentiation between RHEL itself and the rebuilds, and different rebuilds offer different selections of desktop environments. Rocky has also slightly rejigged its kernel packaging for this version, with the realtime build subsumed into the main kernel package, and a new package is available which offers Unified Kernel Images, the new secure format that was introduced with systemd 252 around this time last year.
For now, Oracle and the new wave of CentOS rebuilds that followed Red Hat's ending of CentOS Linux seem to have successfully transcended the new restrictions Red Hat has placed upon the availability of its source code. If it follows the normal RHEL lifecycle, release 9 should last until version 9.10 in 2027, and we are sure that the rebuilds will try to keep up with it... but along with source-code availability, end-of-life dates can suddenly and unexpectedly change.
The future of the RHELatives remains uncertain. ®
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