Why you should wade into the CentOS Stream before selling it short

Jack Wallen kicks the tires of CentOS Stream to discover it's not the evil monstrosity some might make it out to be.

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Image: CentOS

Over the past month, a lot has been said about Red Hat dropping the standard CentOS releases in favor of the rolling release version, CentOS Stream. Most of what has been said falls well into the categories of negative, FUD, and vitriol. Even I've played into such rhetoric, so I thought I should put my money where my mouth was (metaphorically speaking) and kick the tires of CentOS Stream.

To my surprise, I found very little difference between the two--at least in terms of functionality and usability. Before anyone hops onto their soapbox (a position I know all too well), I understand the differences between CentOS 8 and CentOS Stream. In fact, I've written at length about them. As far as real-world usage is concerned, you'd be hard-pressed to notice much of a difference between the two. 

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We all get that CentOS Stream resides somewhere between Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. That's not such a bad thing. Above and beyond that, what I've found is that (shockingly) CentOS Stream functions almost exactly like CentOS 8. In fact, had I not known I was using CentOS Stream, I would have thought I was using good ol' CentOS as usual.

There should be an asterisk next to "as usual." I'll explain that more in a bit...

The same tools

When using CentOS Stream, you have the same tools at your disposal. DNF is there, the Linux kernel is there, and the firewall-cmd firewall command is ready to help you lock down (or open up) your ports. You can still install a LAMP stack and run it as usual. You can develop with the distribution, deploy a Kubernetes cluster onto it, use Cockpit as a web-based management interface, and even pull your hair out because SELinux is giving you the usual fits.

All in all, this is the same CentOS you've been using, only now, it resides in a different location in the stream and the support will mirror that of RHEL. 

What is there to truly complain about? When we have the same tools we had before, can use the distribution exactly how we want, and enjoy the same EOL as it's enterprise counterpart, could the commotion surrounding CentOS Stream be more about change than it is about the actual product being offered?

Think about it: CentOS Stream is a free, open source operating system that you can use however you like. You don't pay for it, you don't have to spend tireless hours developing the platform--you use it. Just like me. CentOS Stream will serve you in the same fashion as did CentOS 8.

I kicked those freshly shined tires and I'm here to tell you that I came away with not much more than a shrug, as if to say "I couldn't tell the difference."

  • I installed a LAMP stack.

  • I installed a number of third-party servers (such as ownCloud and Kubernetes).

  • I used the same tools to configure networking.

  • I used the same firewall tool as I'd done on countless occasions.  

  • I struggled with SELinux as always.

In other words, CentOS Stream is the, to quote David Byrne, "same as it ever was." Of course, that's part of my problem (heads up, here comes that promised asterisk).

To jump into the CentOS Stream or not

I'll preface this by saying it's all a matter of taste and familiarity. I've been using Ubuntu Server as my go-to for years. Why? Because that particular platform never gets in my way of getting things done. CentOS, on the other hand, does. Whether it's SELinux, networking or a lack of software I need to use, something always seems to threaten to trip me up when deploying CentOS.

I understand why. CentOS places quite the premium on security and it shows, at nearly every corner. However, that doesn't mean Ubuntu Server is a slacker, when it comes to server hardening. Given the nature of what I do, there's not always time to be mucking around with the hurdles CentOS puts in place. I need to be able to get things done cleaning, efficiently, and without issue. I need to be able to figure out how something is done, do it, and write about it. Ubuntu Server makes that workflow much easier than CentOS.

For those who are knee deep in the trenches of business IT, CentOS is very often the distribution of choice. Before you write off CentOS Stream, I highly recommend you test the platform before you kick it to the curb. I'm guessing you'll change your tune about "the Stream."

Although it's not my go-to, I've used CentOS for a long, long time (I've been a tech writer for over 20 years now), and I can tell you that CentOS Stream is as good a release as any prior.

I realize the popular thing to do right now is to pile on the hate for what Red Hat has done to our beloved distribution, but the truth of the matter is, when push comes to the proverbial shove, you're not going to find too much of a difference between CentOS 8 and CentOS 8 Stream. 

If you're really concerned about support and how CentOS Stream can help improve your enterprise pipeline, might I suggest you look into Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Enterprise Linux? After all, those two platforms are created for that very purpose.

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