November 19, 2023

RHEL and Alma Linux 9.3 arrive – one is free, the other simply no cost

Red Hat introduces a tool to facilitate migration from several free distributions similar to RHEL

Alma Linux 9.3

The latest version of Red Hat's flagship distribution appeared last week, followed shortly by Alma Linux 9.3. RHEL 8.9 is coming soon – and presumably Rocky Linux 9.3 too.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 9.3 appeared last week, followed five days later by Alma Linux 9.3, the reconstruction now slightly further away. Both projects are the latest semi-annual updates, following version 9.2 in May, from the original 9.0 versions that came out in May last year.

The release cycle of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and related distributions, such as Alma Linux and Rocky Linux, differs substantially from that of more consumer-oriented distributions such as Ubuntu. This difference is particularly evident in the way point releases are handled.

In the context of distributions like Ubuntu, a point release generally signals a substantial overhaul of the distribution, including significant updates to most, if not all, system components. These may include the kernel, system libraries, standard applications, and various other elements of the operating system. This approach tends to provide the latest features and technologies to users, but may also introduce new incompatibilities or require adjustments from users and developers.

On the contrary, in the world of RHEL and its “relatives”, a point release takes on a very different meaning. Rather than representing a broad and comprehensive overhaul, a point release in this context is more incremental and conservative. The main goal is to maintain stability and compatibility within the distribution ecosystem. As a result, a RHEL point release usually maintains the same versions of key components, such as the kernel and major system libraries. This ensures that applications and services that have been tested and certified for a particular version of RHEL continue to work smoothly even after the upgrade.

This philosophy reflects RHEL's orientation towards enterprise and manufacturing environments, where stability and predictability are of paramount importance. Companies that depend on RHEL for their critical infrastructure can plan upgrades knowing that the risk of disruption or incompatibility is minimized.

However, RHEL and related distributions are not entirely static. While the core components remain stable, newer versions of some subcomponents, such as programming languages ​​and system utilities, are offered. This allows users to take advantage of improvements and new features in these areas without compromising overall system stability. This approach offers a balance between innovation and stability, allowing developers and system administrators to adopt new technologies in a controlled and trusted environment.

So, as a point release, RHEL 9.3 primarily consists of updates to existing component versions. For example, it comes with the same kernel version, but with many added bug-fixes and improvements, as described at this summer's in Brno.

However, as usual, there are some new features, mostly things that won't break backward compatibility. For example, RHEL has a set of system roles, defined in Ansible, and now the Podman role includes Quadlet, a previously separate tool from Flatpak creator Alexand Larsson to improve systemd's container management, as described in a blog post from Red Hat earlier this year. The web console now has better health checks for Podman.

A new Convert2RHEL tool facilitates migration from various free distributions similar to RHEL. A new image builder makes it easier to create OS images for deployment in both private and public clouds, as well as on hardware, now including the Open Virtual Appliance (OVA) format. RHEL 9.3 also supports booting AWS VMs with UEFI, in addition to legacy BIOS boot.

All RHEL subscriptions now include the Red Hat Insights monitoring service. RHEL 9.3 also supports Stratis, Red Hat's contender in the next-generation storage subsystems space. We reviewed version 3.3 about a year ago, but development has continued, and Stratis 3.6 appeared last month. This is a little too recent for RHEL 9.3, which includes January's 3.5 release.

If you're primarily interested in a list of new component releases and so on, the Alma Linux 9.3 release notes offer a good summary that is considerably shorter than the Big Purple Hat 9.3 release notes, which in PDF format span over 206 pages. At this length, it's perhaps forgivable that some parts appear not to have been updated yet, such as the in-place update instructions which at the time of writing still talk about updating to version 9.2.

Some notable parts are that the Keylime security tool for edge, cloud, and IoT has been updated to version 7.3, and OpenSSH is less inclined to use the not-so-secure SHA-1 protocol. There are AppStream package updates to Node.js 20, Java 21, and Redis 7, but given that AppStreams are effectively RHEL's equivalent of Fedora Modularity, this is bound to disappear in some future release.

Hardware support on the Arm64 has improved, and operating systems can now handle Bluetooth, wifi adapters, and USB webcams, among other features. The dnf command can automatically reboot or shut down the machine if necessary, and can display “leaves”, orphaned packages on which nothing depends. The command to reconfigure the GRUB 2 bootloader has gained a few more options, but there is still no direct replacement for the convenient update-grub command from the Debian family.

Alma Linux 9.3 and RHEL 9.3 are available for four different 64-bit architectures: x86 (V2 minimum), Arm (V8 minimum), IBM s390 (z14 minimum), and POWER in Little-Endian mode (V9 minimum). RHEL 9.3 is now available to Red Hat customers, included with free developer subscriptions. Alma Linux is available from 334 different download mirrors.

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