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‘The Register’ Lays an Egg: SUSE Liberty Linux is NOT a Distro

Although several news outlets have reported that SUSE Liberty Linux is a new RHEL-based distribution, it’s actually a support program for organizations running multiple Linux flavors.

SUSE HackWeek 2020 Nuremberg, Germany
SUSE group picture from its 2020 HackWeek at its Nuremberg offices. SOURCE: SUSE

No matter what you may have read elsewhere, SUSE is not coming out with a new distro to vie for space in the crowded CentOS replacement business. With Alma, Rocky, Oracle, and others already vying for a piece of the CentOS market pie, SUSE thinks that’s a market that’s already crowded enough, thank you.

What it is going to do is make life easier for Enterprises (or anybody else) running a mixed environment of numerous Linux distributions to support them under a single plan called SUSE Liberty Linux.

“It is not a brand new Linux distribution,” SUSE’s chief technology and product officer, Thomas Di Giacomo, told FOSS Force a couple of weeks back, shortly after he announced the new service in a blog. “Liberty Linux is a support offering — a technology and support solution. It provides unified support for customers and end users in their mixed Linux environments, including RHEL, CentOS and SLES, so not another Linux distribution.”

The Register Gets It Wrong

Di Giacomo was helping set the record straight after The Register, as well as ITWire and several other tech news sites, published articles proclaiming Liberty Linux to be a brand new disto from SUSE that would be a Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone, like CentOS was until recently, and not based on SUSE Linux Enterprise.

In a headline that has since been changed, El Reg said, “SUSE announces new distro for those who miss the old CentOS: Liberty Linux.”

That wasn’t the end of the gaff. The article proceeded to go into great detail to explain the methods SUSE was employing to create this new, but nonexistent, CentOS replacement.

“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,” Liam Proven wrote for The Reg. “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.”

That’s a lot of facts for a distro that doesn’t exist, eh?

Since then Proven has rewritten the article and changed the headline to read, “SUSE announces ‘tech and support’ product Liberty Linux.”

“From what our sources told us, and as we first reported, we understood Liberty Linux to be a SUSE rebuild of CentOS 8, aimed at RHEL 8 compatibility, and effectively a new distribution,” he wrote. “What was actually launched by SUSE in the end was a ‘technology and support solution.’ We’ve updated our article to reflect this, and we’ll let you know what really happened to Liberty Linux as soon as we can.”

According to Di Giacomo, confusion by reporters with connections inside SUSE is understandable,and also might explain the “what really happened to Liberty Linux” weirdness in Proven’s retraction.

Di Giacomo said that in the period after Red Hat announced that CentOS would no longer be a downstream clone of RHEL, which caused something of a panic among CentOS users (which included more than a few Fortune 100 companies using it in production), SUSE seriously considered harnessing OBS to build its own RHEL clone as a CentOS replacement.

“Everything we do is open source, so it’s open and visible,” he said, “and the code name of that project was [also] Liberty. I think that’s where the confusion is coming from.”

SUSE eventually dropped those plans, Di Giacomo said, when it determined that a CentOS replacement wasn’t necessary, due to the successful development of other CentOS-based distros such as Rocky and AlmaLinux.

“What our customers are telling us is they don’t really need another clone; they need to be supported with what they have,” he said. “That’s why we focused on supporting existing distributions versus creating yet another clone.”

Drilling Down Into SUSE Liberty Linux

At this point you might be excused for asking about Liberty Linux’s purpose, given that SUSE already offers SUSE Manager, which offers basic lifecycle support that includes patches and the like for just about any Linux flavor you might have in your data center — a question that might seem especially pertinent since Liberty basically only covers RHEL, its clones, and SLES.

Not only that, there are plenty of places to turn to find patches and other lifecycle support for Linux distros commonly found in data centers. For example, CloudLinux (the company that initiated AlmaLinux) has TuxCare, which offers enterprise level support for a wide range of distributions, and even offers extended support for many releases that have officially reached end of life.

The answer is that SUSE Liberty Linux is designed to be a single source of support for organizations that are running a mixed bag of Linux distros.

“Running a mixed Linux environment is common in today’s IT world,” Di Giacomo explained in his blog introducing the service. “That is, competitive businesses run a wide variety of workloads on a wide variety of Linux distributions, including production workloads running on different enterprise Linux distributions. In this scenario, you are no doubt getting support, maintenance updates and security patches from not only multiple vendors, but also the open source communities. In addition, it’s possible that you are using multiple management dashboards to keep track of the health of your disparate systems.”

“Your mixed Linux environment is quite frankly a nightmare for your administrators,” he added. “Support contracts with multiple vendors are costly and complicated to maintain. And getting community support takes time away from the innovative work that the business is asking of you.”

He makes a good point, but there’s a hole or two that needs patching if this is to become a universal solution. For example, while it’s true that most enterprises running multiple Linux distros are unlikely to be running something esoteric, such as Arch or Gentoo, or distributions primarily associated with desktop use, such as Mint or Mageia, they are likely to be running something like Ubuntu Server, which has become the most used distribution on public clouds.

Don’t expect Ubuntu or other distros to be covered soon, however. Di Giacomo told us SUSE currently has no plans to extend Liberty Linux’s coverage.

SUSE Liberty Linux became generally available last week. Non-SUSE customers can check the SUSE website for more information. Existing customers should talk to their representative.

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