There were clones of — or more accurately downstream projects based on — Red Hat Enterprise Linux before Red Hat bought CentOS in 2014.
There are many (many!) other Linux distributions and BSD projects that can supply a server or desktop operating system. Most of them are not owned by corporations that can limit their distribution on a whim.
Red Hat is right about many things. But the one thing they are very right about is the importance of contribution and community to the health of an open-source software project.
Stream will add those two things — contribution and community — to RHEL. It should just be called RHEL Stream. They could call it Chocolate Chip Cookie Stream for all I care.
But the enterprise, high performance computing, academia, small businesses, startups and individual users have many alternatives. For many uses, CentOS Stream might even be better that downstream-from-RHEL CentOS . But it will be worse for many other things.
Still, the software is open-source. Though Red Hat is a big contributor to the Linux kernel and many other upstream projects, that kernel and most of the rest of the bits in RHEL are not Red Hat’s to withhold. Red Hat knows that. The put it all together, and they do that well. But it’s a collaborative effort in the large.
The reason CentOS and other clones were able to thrive in the first place was because Red Hat made the source of RHEL both available and usable. They go above and beyond. That will probably not change. I say “probably” because releasing a product, say CentOS 8, with a promise — implied or actual — of a certain level of support and then abruptly going back on that promise is a breach of trust.
Red Hat has a lot of community reconciliation to do — for its own benefit, not just that of its downstream communities.
Meanwhile, Debian, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, FreeBSD and many others stand ready to run your things. In case you’re keeping score, two of these are run and owned by corporations, and two are not.
And by the middle of next year, expect more than a couple new projects looking to be downstream RHEL clones. We know about Rocky Linux and Project Lenix. None of them will be owned by Red Hat. Maybe one or two of them will be able to deliver what users want.
I’m fairly certain Red Hat didn’t think ending CentOS as we know it meant the end of downstream RHEL clones.
But they will cost Red Hat nothing. Except lost business and reputation. They could always gain customers from this move, but I really don’t see it.
And when those downstream projects appear and stick around, angry users around the world will be happier than they are right now. Take that one to the bank.