CentOS vs AlmaLinux: A Comparison

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AlmaLinux is a relatively new operating system meant to act as a CentOS replacement. How did AlmaLinux come to be? RedHat, the company that created and maintains RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), announced on December 8th, 2020, that CentOS would be repurposed to CentOS Stream. CentOS Stream now acts as an upstream testing platform where new and updated software will first be deployed and tested before being released to RHEL users. 

CentOS Stream’s shift from a downstream distribution to an upstream one left many users and organizations questioning RHEL’s plans with CentOS. As a result of this shift, several organizations worldwide announced plans to create a CentOS replacement, including:

  • AlmaLinux.
  • Rocky Linux.
  • Oracle Linux.
  • Springdale Linux.
  • ClearOS Linux.
  • Amazon Linux 2.

In this article, we explore AlmaLinux and provide information to allow you to decide whether or not it is right for you.

CentOS vs CentOS Stream

CentOS Stream acts as the upstream testing ground for new software in the RHEL ecosystem. Security fixes are the one exception to this upstream rule, as RHEL will receive security-related updates before CentOS Stream. As a result, users looking to use the latest software versions see CentOS Stream as an attractive option, while users seeking software stability see this as a riskier operating system choice. 

With the shift to CentOS Stream, End-of-Life (EOL) timeframes have also shifted. CentOS Stream now offers five years of support while previous CentOS versions offered up to ten. This shortened EOL window means users of CentOS Stream will need to navigate operating system upgrades more frequently than with CentOS.

What is CentOS?

CentOS previously operated as a free downstream distribution from RedHat Enterprise Linux. Redhat initially introduced updated and new software packages onto their Fedora operating system for initial testing. After sufficient testing on Fedora, those packages were pushed downstream and added to RHEL for real-world enterprise deployments.

Following successful deployment on RHEL, the new software was deployed to CentOS systems. The heavily tested software of CentOS gave users a high degree of confidence in its stability, making CentOS a popular operating system for enterprise deployments such as cloud computing and web hosting.

What is AlmaLinux?

AlmaLinux is a free Centos replacement created by the CloudLinux team. CloudLinux is a downstream distribution of RHEL, meaning the team already has considerable experience maintaining a RHEL clone. AlmaLinux will be community-driven by the AlmaLinux foundation. The software used by AlmaLinux is intended to be 1:1 binary compatible with RHEL and CentOS (non-stream).

CentOS vs AlmaLinux

CentOS and AlmaLinux are very similar overall, with only a few differences between who drives each project. 

Similarities Between CentOS vs AlmaLinux

  • Downstream from RHEL: Both AlmaLinux and CentOS are downstream distributions of Redhat Enterprise Linux.
  • 10-year lifetime: AlmaLinux and CentOS both have a 10-year lifespan to receive software updates from their initial release date.
  • Community-driven: CentOS project and the AlmaLinux foundation are similarly structured. Both are community-driven and backed by companies that have experience in deploying enterprise-grade operating systems.
  • Price: Both CentOS and AlmaLinux are made free to use and have no fees associated with using them.
  • Package Management: Software packages for both distributions are in RPM format. RPMs are installed and updated by the DNF utility on CentOS 8 and AlmaLinux 8. 

Differences Between CentOS vs AlmaLinux

Aside from the name, there are very few differences between AlmaLinux and CentOS. The CentOS project is backed by RedHat, and the AlmaLinux foundation is backed by CloudLinux. While the backing companies are different, the communities they support share near-identical goals.

Advantages and Disadvantages of CentOS vs AlmaLinux

Advantages of CentOS

  • Price: CentOS is free to use, even for commercial applications. This cost advantage makes it an incredibly attractive option for individual users and commercial users looking to control their bottom-line costs. 
  • RedHat Software Pedigree: All software that CentOS uses has been tested and deployed by RedHat. This testing gives CentOS users confidence that their software is stable and ready for even the most demanding commercial large-scale deployments. 
  • Long support lifetime: Each major version of CentOS will receive software updates for ten years before reaching its end-of-life date, which is longer than most other Linux distributions with EOL dates typically ranging from two to five years.
  • Ease of Installation: CentOS is a straightforward operating system to install. New users of CentOS can easily navigate the installation interface, while commercial users can use kickstart files to deploy CentOS at scale systematically.

Disadvantages of CentOS

  • Barriers to newer software versions: Due to CentOS’ position far downstream takes a long time for new software to be deployed on CentOS. Additionally, Redhat takes the stable approach of backporting security and bug fixes in existing software versions rather than introducing the latest versions of software with new features. CentOS users can get access to newer software packages by adding third-party software repositories, but these are typically not tested to the same degree as the native software versions CentOS provides.
  • Graphical Interfaces feel dated: Desktop users of CentOS will notice a very plain interface. Redhat applies its stability philosophy to the user interface, which means minimizing moving parts. This decision means that many UI and UX touches of flair and style are not implemented in favor of having an interface that “just works.”

Advantages of AlmaLinux

Since AlmaLinux is relatively new, there’s only so much that can be determined about its pros so far. However, AlmaLinux and its developers are off to a fantastic start.

  • Ease of Use: AlmaLinux is a 1:1 binary compatible with CentOS versions previous to CentOS Stream, making it very familiar to former CentOS users and thus easy to use.  Initial reviews of AlmaLinux are generally positive, and no major issues have been reported.
  • Ease of Installation: AlmaLinux is also fairly easy to install and get up and running.
  • Price: Like CentOS, AlmaLinux is free to use for home and commercial applications. AlmaLinux’s dedication to providing a forever-free downstream distribution is generally seen as a positive by previous users of CentOS.

Disadvantages of AlmaLinux

The cons of AlmaLinux are very similar to the cons of CentOS.

  • Barriers to newer software versions: The same barriers to new software versions apply to AlmaLinux. With AlmaLinux having a downstream position in development, this will likely continue unless the team makes changes.
  • Dated graphical interface: The dated look and feel of the graphical interface are also present in AlmaLinux. Users who have had past negative experiences with CloudLinux may translate those opinions to AlmaLinux, but it’s likely too soon to be drawing those conclusions, given the community-driven aspect of AlmaLinux.

How to Choose Between CentOS vs AlmaLinux

When it comes to deciding which operating system to use, users will need to determine where their priorities are before choosing. The overall user experience between AlmaLinux and CentOS feels nearly identical, so CentOS users will feel right at home with AlmaLinux. The last supported version of CentOS has support until 2024, so CentOS users still have some time to consider using AlmaLinux or another Linux distribution.

Wrapping Up

Changing operating systems can be a daunting task. While still very new, AlmaLinux is a promising operating system where CentOS users can expect to find familiarity. We’ve covered the many similarities and the few differences between CentOS vs AlmaLinux.

If you are ready to get started with AlmaLinux, Liquid Web has VPS Hosting, Cloud Dedicated Servers, and Dedicated Hosting options from which to choose. And if you desire to host using a control panel, our fully managed images are offered with the cPanel and Plesk control panels. Contact our sales team to set up your server today.

About the Author: Matt Jung

Matt Jung is on Liquid Web's training team, after spending his first 3 years as a support technician. On his weekends, you might find him driving all over Michigan, photographing wildlife, lighthouses, or the northern lights. Find out more about Matt's adventures at Matt Jung Photography.

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