According to metrics tracked by the EPEL Special Interest Group, as of September 2023, Rocky is a leader in the Enterprise Linux segment.
Imagine a Linux distribution with only two and a half years of history behind it, which, for this period, managed to displace all others in the enterprise Linux segment, becoming the sole leader. Yes, we are talking about Rocky Linux.
It is a well-known and established name that doesn’t need any extra introduction except to mention that Rocky is among the best alternatives if you are looking for a free and reliable 1:1 binary-compatible replacement for RHEL/CentOS. Now to the point.
According to the metrics monitored by the Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux (EPEL) Special Interest Group (SIG), Rocky Linux has not only carved a niche for itself but continues to dominate other EL distributions, holding a leadership position in the segment.
As shown in the graph above, as of September 2023, Rocky is the most used enterprise Linux distribution, with around half a million instances, followed by RHEL, with less than 400,000.
Third place goes to AlmaLinux with just over 300,000, closely followed by CentOS Stream with around 280,000. In the last fifth position is Oracle Linux, with under 100,000 instances.
In addition, to clarify, the sample includes all major and minor 8.x and 9.x versions of the distributions listed above.
However, it should be taken into account that Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 (maintenance support to June 2024) and CentOS 7 (security support to June 2024) are still widely used and supported. Still, they are not included in this sample.
The Reason Behind Rocky’s Success
Let’s start with the fact that Rocky, Alma, RHEL, and Oracle offer the same product, with identical functionality and minor variations, but under different branding. CentOS Stream sits a little to the side of them in its role as a testbed for the next stable RHEL release.
This is to say that the reason for choosing one distribution over another is beyond its purely technical merits. Moreover, if we exclude RHEL, which is paid, we are left with the other three, Rocky, Alma, and Oracle, which are free to use. Which then shot Rocky to the top?
In our opinion, the reason is entirely subjective, and it is called Gregory Kurtzer – the man who birthed one of the most successful Linux projects, CentOS, and then continued what he started in Rocky Linux.
We all know the story. Red Hat shifted focus from CentOS to CentOS Stream, effectively ending its role as a widely popular server operating system, resulting in the emergence of the Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux projects in December 2020.
So, in the late 2020s, Oracle Linux has been a presence on the enterprise Linux scene for years but, for historically inherited reasons, has not enjoyed much continuity in the open-source community.
On top of that, due to Red Hat’s actions, CentOS Stream has lost much of its credibility regarding predictability as a distribution that is hard to bet on.
So users were faced with a choice between two main alternatives – the new stars looming on the horizon, Rocky and Alma. The most natural thing was for users to massively bet on and follow the project that was the natural extension of CentOS, Rocky Linux, especially since it was created by the same person who had founded CentOS, Gregory Kurtzer.
For reference, in just the first 24 hours after Kurtzer’s announcement that it intends to create a new project, a successor to CentOS, over 650 contributors joined the project.
In other words, the initial momentum is crucial. It is far more challenging to start from scratch when you are a relatively unfamiliar name in the Linux community, as was the case with the founders of Alma.
Of course, this does not attribute the credit for Rocky’s current leading status among enterprise Linux distributions solely to Kurtzer. It is just that this time, based on his experience with CentOS, he did the right things to ensure that history would not repeat itself.
Furthermore, he has also expanded on this with CIQ and RESF, establishing a lean and dependable organization that provides users with the much-needed security and predictability they require for Rocky’s future.
In any case, whatever the reasons, the success of Rocky as the preferred choice among enterprise Linux users deserves only admiration. So, well done, Rocky!