AlmaLinux beta is available, and it's CentOS with a new coat of paint

Jack Wallen checks out the AlmaLinux beta release and is quite surprised with what he found.

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Image: Jack Wallen

Every data center admin knows about what's happened with CentOS. With good reason: CentOS is one of the more popular server platforms on the market, and when someone messes with that sauce, bad things happen.

In the case of CentOS users, good things happen.

Because this is open source we're talking about, there was no way CentOS would die a slow and painful death at the hands of Red Hat. Case in point, AlmaLinux.

For those who might not be up to speed, AlmaLinux was created by CloudLinux, who is backing the new CentOS fork at the tune of $1 million annually. That's some serious coin to put up for an operating system. CloudLinux gets it; they know how important CentOS has been over the years, and how much it will continue to mean to both the Linux community and enterprise-class businesses. 

It's unfortunate that Red Hat could not see said value. Ergo, AlmaLinux.

On January 1, 2021, CloudLinux delivered on their promise of making AlmaLinux available in Q1 of this year. Granted, what we have is the first beta release. However, this beta is based on CentOS 8, so it already has a leg up on the beta status. 

SEE: Kubernetes security guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

A much-needed breath of fresh air

I downloaded AlmaLinux beta 1 and spun up a virtual machine. Upon first login, if I squinted ever so slightly, what I saw was CentOS. In fact, AlmaLinux is CentOS 8 with a bit of rebranding and a Virtual Machine Manager installed. Because AlmaLinux is 1:1 binary compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, I went at using this beta version as if I could do anything that was possible with CentOS.

I wasn't disappointed. 

  • Install LAMP stack? Check.

  • Deploy containers with Podman? Check.

  • Use Cockpit for system management? Check.

Everything tracks. If I could do it on CentOS, I can do it on AlmaLinux. Everyone who was up in arms about what happened with CentOS can breath in a much-needed breath of air--everything is going to be okay.

Well...almost.

The first sign of trouble

The one big surprise for me was the inability to install cPanel on AlmaLinux. Hopefully, the developers will get around that issue as quickly as possible, otherwise they'll lose a large user base, before the first official release of the OS.

Before anyone balks, don't underestimate the power of cPanel, as this crucial tool is used in conjunction with CentOS, by a good percentage of admins and companies. If AlmaLinux isn't capable of installing cPanel, it'll be a deal breaker for many.

Understand, however, this is just a beta release. If I were to guess, the problem with cPanel is going to land squarely in the hands of those who develop the tool. Because AlmaLinux is 100% compatible with RHEL, cPanel should install. The second the installer detects it's not being run on a supported OS, it kicks out:

2021-02-02 09:42:54  613 [55080] (DEBUG):   Detected distro "almalinux-release", version "8.3", arch "x86_64"
2021-02-02 09:42:54  709 [55080] (ERROR): The system found that the unexpected 'almalinux-release' RPM manages the release file.
2021-02-02 09:42:54  711 [55080] (ERROR): The system detected an unsupported distribution. cPanel & WHM only supports CentOS 7 and 8, Red Hat Enterprise Linux® 6 and 7 and CloudLinux™ 6 and 7.
2021-02-02 09:42:54  712 [55080] (FATAL): Please reinstall cPanel & WHM from a valid distribution.
Removing /root/installer.lock.
[jack@localhost ~]$ sudo nano /etc/redhat-release

cPanel can be installed on CloudLinux 6 and 7. Since CloudLinux is responsible for AlmaLinux, it would only make sense that cPanel can be installed on the new platform.

Unless (and this is just conjecture) CloudLinux doesn't plan on making AlmaLinux compatible with cPanel. After all, CloudLinux is a company who has to make money. It would make sense that they not give away everything for free: Have a paid distribution that can work with such a popular control panel tool, while having a free (binary compatible) distribution would be a solid working model. After all, it worked for Red Hat, at least for a while. Even Red Hat made it possible for cPanel to install on CentOS.

My guess is that cPanel and CloudLinux have simply not worked this out. It's way early in the process, and I have spotted requests for that very thing on the cPanel forums. 

Note: I've reached out to AlmaLinux and am waiting to hear back from them on this issue. Once I have the official word, I'll update this article with my findings. 

Serious promise

If the beta of AlmaLinux is any indication as to how this distribution will serve those looking for a CentOS replacement, admins and users are going to be very happy. Even though AlmaLinux had a head start with development (thanks to it being based on RHEL), I have never experienced a beta version of an operating system that showed this much promise.

If you've been up in arms over the changes made to CentOS, put those fears aside, the soul of CentOS continues on, in the heart of AlmaLinux.

For those that want to test the beta release, you can download a copy from the official AlmaLinux download page.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....