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Since its inception, AlmaLinux has very quickly risen to become one of the best drop-in replacements for both CentOS Stream and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Of course, being based on RHEL, AlmaLinux benefits from a fairly high bar set by the Red Hat pedigree. And although on the surface there aren’t any user-facing features that will blow anyone’s mind out of the Linux water, AlmaLinux 9 still manages to seriously impress … even as a beta.

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I’ve already written about what’s included in AlmaLinux 9 beta, so if you’re curious as to what’s what, make sure to read “AlmaLinux 9 beta is now available and introduces several improvements.” For those who want to know what AlmaLinux 9 beta is like, read on.

It’s all about speed

I installed AlmaLinux 9 to see what was what, and right out of the gate, I noticed something that took me by surprise … speed.

If I had to point out a single difference from previous iterations of AlmaLinux, it’s how much faster the operating system has become with the latest release. It’s noticeable, by a wide margin. I’d even go so far as to say AlmaLinux 9 is the most performant of any RHEL clone I’ve ever experienced.

How did the developers manage this? First, it’s no secret that AlmaLinux 9 greatly benefits from what the Red Hat developers have done with the platform. In fact, AlmaLinux 9 is identical to RHEL 9, minus the branding and removing of RHEL-specific packages (such as redhat-*, insights-client, and subscriber-manager-migration*). Most likely what gives AlmaLinux 9 beta its newfound speed is a combination of the new kernel, the changes made to SELinux and the improved I/O controller.

Of course, it’s not just about the underlying layers. AlmaLinux ships with GNOME 42, so for those who prefer to interact with their servers by way of a desktop, you’ll find even the GUI is considerably faster.

I’ve run a few simple tests and compared them to previous releases and found AlmaLinux 9 is light years ahead of version 8 in speed. Applications install faster, desktop applications open faster, websites load faster, containers deploy faster, networking is faster … in fact, everything on AlmaLinux 9 outperforms everything in AlmaLinux 8, by a longshot. And given this is a beta release, that’s saying something.

Another test I did was an actual benchmark, using the Phoronix Test Suite. Of course, this was a virtual machine with a single CPU, so the results were already doomed to skew fairly low. Even with so little horsepower behind it, the AlmaLinux VM scored in the 15th percentile on this test.

Everything (almost) just works

I would also go so far as to say this is the first release of a CentOS/RHEL clone that I didn’t feel needed all that much done after the initial installation. Beyond enabling Cockpit with the command sudo systemctl enable --now cockpit.socket, everything just worked.

The only hitch I came across was when attempting to install PHP. Because this is a beta release, the SSL certificate is not yet valid, made clear by the following error:

Error: Error downloading packages:

Curl error (60): SSL peer certificate or SSH remote key was not OK for [SSL certificate problem: certificate is not yet valid]

And even using the --nogpgcheck option failed to work. Turns out, however, the timezone on the installation was improperly set. A quick change of timezones with the command sudo timedatectl set-timezone America/Kentucky/Louisville and (after a quick reboot) I was able to install PHP. Just goes to show you that you need to check all the details of your installation before you actually install.

Because this is a beta release, it’s almost unfair to actually call this a review. In fact, in many cases reviewing beta software is generally frowned upon. However, I find it fascinating to see how an operating system not only evolves from alpha to beta to final but to also see how well it performs before it’s actually ready for the masses. Given how well AlmaLinux 9 is already performing, it’s safe to say that, once the OS hits final release status, this is going to be a platform many businesses and admins are going to very quickly come to depend on.

When AlmaLinux 9 is finally released, it would not surprise me if it becomes the de facto standard by which all other server-focused operating systems are judged. And although I won’t be switching from my go-to Ubuntu Server distribution, I could easily see where AlmaLinux might become my default for certain use cases … especially when speed is a necessity.

If you’re interested in testing the beta of AlmaLinux 9, download a copy and spin it up. Just remember, this is a beta release and should not be used for production environments.

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