Official details remain scant, but SUSE Liberty Linux is a new member of the growing tribe of CentOS Linux replacements. The new distro is a SUSE rebuild of CentOS 8, aimed at near-perfect RHEL 8 compatibility.

Since Red Hat killed off CentOS Linux and replaced it with CentOS Stream, there’s been renewed activity in the world of drop-in RHEL replacements. Now a new entrant has joined AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux, as SUSE enters the fray with its own rebuild of Red Hat’s freely-available source code.

As it has only appeared on SUSE’s website over night, we don’t have a demo version at time of writing, so here is what we know so far.

At launch, Liberty Linux should be equivalent to the current Red Hat release – RHEL 8.5 – and compatible with packages from Red Hat’s own EPEL repos.

SUSE is building the distro using its own Open Build Service tooling. All of the userland of the new distro will be built from Red Hat’s official Source RPMs (SRPMs), with the exception of the kernel. That comes from SUSE’s own SLE enterprise distribution, currently on version 15 SP3, but compiled using a Red Hat-compatible configuration.

Since these days openSUSE’s stable distro, Leap, is binary compatible with SLE, that suggests that Liberty Linux will ship with kernel 5.3.18. That’s a lot newer than RHEL 8.5’s kernel 4.18, so RHEL device drivers and kernel modules almost certainly won’t work – but SLE ones should.

You can also only expect support for Red Hat’s choice of filesystems, meaning XFS rather than SUSE’s preferred Btrfs, which Red Hat doesn’t support. The new distro is also x86-64 only, with no support for POWER or Arm boxes.

The new distro will be supported by the company’s fleet management tool, SUSE Manager – because that already supports RHEL, as well as Ubuntu. Future updates should follow Red Hat’s release cycle, rather than SUSE’s.

The most important thing for SUSE’s bottom line is that customers will be able to buy SUSE’s commercial support for the new distro, right alongside its traditional offerings. The plan is for there to be a free download as well, but nothing is visible yet.

The idea is that, now that the End-of-Life for CentOS Linux 8 has passed, users have a new path forward, rather than switching distros – realistically, which includes to CentOS Stream. Previously, the options were to move to one of the relatively new community-supported distros – or to pay Red Hat, if your fingers weren’t feeling too burned to reach into your wallet.

If you didn’t want to deal with the IBM subsidiary, you could jump ship to Oracle Linux, if that didn’t sound even less appealing. Now there’s another way: a paid-for, fully-supported, RHEL-compatible enterprise distro, but from a long-established, Linux-centric vendor. ®

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