AlmaLinux vs Rocky Linux! Undoubtedly, they are the two most popular RHEL forks, but which one is the right choice? In this article, I’ll share my thoughts on the matter.
AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux are the two brightest shining stars since CentOS ceded its position as a reliable RHEL-based server operating system.
First and foremost, open source is all about making sure users have a choice. AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux are identical RHEL-rebuilds, just like CentOS was. So, in terms of performance, they should be the same.
Both distros are prime candidates for the role of CentOS replacements. From a technical perspective, they both aim to be 1:1 compatible forks of RHEL. Therefore, the choice between these two is mostly made for ideological reasons.
People have made some valid points for not using CentOS Stream, one of which is that it’s not the same as RHEL as it was previously and as AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux are now. People used CentOS because it was an RHEL rebuild, which is no longer the case.
But before we move on to the main topic of this article, let’s first take a quick look at both distributions.
When Red Hat announced that they would no longer be maintaining CentOS releases, CloudLinux, a company specializing in delivering a customized Linux-based operating system to large hosting providers and data centers, decided to create their own RHEL fork.
Initially called Project Lenix, it was renamed AlmaLinux on January 14, 2021. It was intended to be a general-purpose operating system that would always be free. Forever!
When the project was first announced, CloudLinux pledged $1 million in annual support, which is still in effect. However, although CloudLinux is largely funding AlmaLinux, it does not own the project or the software it produces.
The first beta version of AlmaLinux was released on February 1, 2021, and the first stable release (8.3) of AlmaLinux, codenamed “Purple Manul,” was published on March 30, 2021.
The latest stable release of AlmaLinux is AlmaLinux 8.5 “Arctic Sphynx,” released on November 12, 2021, within 48 hours of the RHEL 8.5 release. As you can see, the version number represents the RHEL version on which it’s based.
AlmaLinux 8.x series will be supported until 2029, the year CentOS 8 was initially scheduled to reach End-of-Life.
Rocky Linux was founded by Gregory Kurtzer, the original CentOS project founder. The name was chosen as a tribute to early CentOS co-founder Rocky McGaugh.
As we said before, Red Hat announced it was shifting focus from downstream build CentOS to upstream build CentOS Stream on December 8, 2020, and the very next day, the Rocky Linux development effort was launched on GitHub. Over 650 contributors joined in less than 24 hours.
Additionally, the project has backing from multi-billion-dollar companies, such as VMWare, AWS, Google, etc.
The Rocky Linux team announced the general availability of its first stable release, Rocky Linux 8.4 “Green Obsidian,” on June 21, 2021. They’re doing CentOS “classic” all over again.
CentOS releases used to be numbered after RHEL releases. This made it simple for users to determine which RHEL version was used as the source code base for any CentOS build. Rocky Linux carries on the tradition.
AlmaLinux vs. Rocky Linux
CentOS was founded by Lance Davis and Gregory Kurtzer in 2004. In 2014, the CentOS team accepted a deal with Red Hat.
As a result, Red Hat acquired CentOS and got all the trademarks, copyrights, etc. In 2019 IBM officially acquired Red Hat, which led to the discontinuation of CentOS.
Of course, I understand that it’s easy to get excited about a project at the start. However, it’s much more difficult to be enthusiastic ten years later if you are not financially compensated for it.
With that said, can anyone guarantee that history won’t repeat itself since Rocky Linux is led by the same guy who, pressured by a big corporation, left the CentOS project that subsequently went into Red Hat’s hands?
So, I’m not sure why people keep mentioning that the founder of CentOS also founded Rocky as reasoning for using Rocky Linux. Please, don’t base your software choices on a cult of personality. In the case of Rocky Linux, the problem for me is trust!
Let’s look at how things stand in terms of migration. The first Rocky Linux release also includes a conversion tool (migrate2rocky) that can assist you in migrating your CentOS system to Rocky Linux. You can migrate an existing CentOS, AlmaLinux, RHEL, or Oracle Linux installation to Rocky Linux.
Note that the mentioned tool can migrate any listed distributions only to Rocky Linux.
Did you see the difference between “only to” in Rocky’s case and “to any” in AlmaLinux’s approach? In my eyes, AlmaLinux’s path is nobler, closer to the spirit of open source and the freedom to choose, and I respect that.
|Production Version||Since March 2021||Since June 2021|
|1:1 RHEL binary compatibility||Yes||Yes|
|Regular updates delay||About 1 business day||About 1 business day|
|Lifecycle||10 Years||10 Years|
|Commercial support||3rd party||3rd party|
|Owned By||AlmaLinux OS Foundation||Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation|
|Owned by org type||Non-Profit 501(c)(6)||For Profit, Public Benefit Corp|
And now it’s time to move on to perhaps the most essential aspect of things – the governance model.
The AlmaLinux OS Foundation is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization. It was created to put the ownership of the OS, the intellectual property, and the direction of the project into the hands of the community.
CloudLinux doesn’t have control over AlmaLinux OS Foundation. The community controls and owns AlmaLinux, and no one can change that. Not CloudLinux, not any other corporation, or anyone else.
There’s no parent company behind AlmaLinux. Yes, CloudLinux had the idea to start the project off, but AlmaLinux is totally independent and is not owned by CloudLinux. Instead, it’s 100% community-owned and governed.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, how much do CloudLinux OS and AlmaLinux have in common? You will be surprised by the answer – they have nothing in common.
CloudLinux OS is a different product with its customers and objectives. It has nothing to do with AlmaLinux’s mission.
Let’s see how things stand for Rocky Linux.
Rocky Linux is governed and administered by the Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF), founded by Kurtzer.
At the same time, he is also the Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) owner, which provides the umbrella behind Rocky Linux.
So, Kurtzer basically owns Rocky. We just have to trust him that he will prevent what happened before from happening again.
It’s important that the PBC has no desire to make revenue, no products, or services; it holds the sole responsibility of maintaining the assets, legal, and organizational structure.
Yes, RESF has a governing board, but wherever you look at it, Kurtzer is the company holder and probably the decision-maker at Rocky Linux. Depending on your point of view, this can be seen as both good and bad.
At the same time, the AlmaLinux OS Foundation is a true 501(c)(6) non-profit with an independent board of directors and communal ownership, with contributors having the direct voting capability and a direct voice in project governance.
IMHO, the Rocky licensing is proprietary-ish compared to AlmaLinux, which is very clear to ensure it’s a community-owned non-profit.
Rocky is an initiative by CentOS founder, which means a lot of experience in this area.
On the other hand, AlmaLinux is mainly developed by the team of CloudLinux, who also have a great experience with CentOS, so actually, the core dev team has over a decade of experience rebuilding RHEL.
So in terms of experience, they both have it.
TuxCare rolls in what CloudLinux used to call KernelCare. It’s the new CloudLinux umbrella brand that encompasses live patching for critical components, support services for systems past their End-of-Life, and now for current distributions as well.
In the case of Rocky, Kurtzer recently launched CIQ, or Ctrl IQ, to provide support for Rocky Linux enterprise customers in industries such as defense and government, media, pharmaceuticals, high-performance computing (HPC), research, and more.
CIQ is heavily invested in the success of Rocky, to the point where CIQ sponsors the Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation both financially as well as by hiring engineers and dedicating their time to the project.
As we’ve all seen, probably 99% of the Linux distros proudly wave the flag with the word “Community” on the front pages of their websites. As we know, this is the foundation for the Linux community on which to build.
For some Linux distros, the community is really something they show respect and consideration for. For others, it’s just a marketing approach.
My personal experience is that AlmaLinux is open to communication, and there is always someone there from their team to welcome you and answer a question. But unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Rocky Linux.
AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux share many similarities, but there are significant differences in how they are maintained and governed.
Although I’m not the biggest fan of Red Hat and its derivatives, if I had to choose an RHEL-based replacement, I would have gone with AlmaLinux because I looked at each distribution’s management and funding systems and prefer Alma’s approach.
On top of that, AlmaLinux has been more responsive and has gotten updates out sooner.
However, switching between them will be simply because they are both based on the same upstream. So if the one you’re running falls behind or is hampered by politics/drama, you can easily switch to the other.
They are both excellent, and whatever you choose, it will just work great.