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Understanding CentOS Stream • The Register

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Red Hat has released CentOS Stream 9, the first major version since the company badly shook its community by announcing it was ending traditional CentOS a year ago.

This is the second release of the new CentOS Stream distro, and presumably the IBM subsidiary hopes it will offer a more appealing migration path for CentOS users than for them to jump ship.

Notably, in CentOS Stream 8, RH’s Application Streams – analogous to Fedora’s “Modularity” – were mandatory, but they’re optional in 9.

This is a big deal in the Red Hat world, but can be mysterious to the millions of non-Red Hat Linux users. Since it seems to please Red Hat to imagine that Red Hat is the entirety of the Linux world, its official materials don’t really give you any context, so The Register will try to translate for you.

Executive historical summary

The original Red Hat Linux (RHL) was released in May 1995, making it one of the oldest distros, but the company killed it off after version 9 in 2003. RHL was replaced with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which became the company’s only supported distro. The word supported is key here.

The pre-existing Fedora project, formerly a third-party repo for RHL add-ons, got promoted to being the free, unsupported, community distro: no paid support, updates for 13 months, a new version roughly twice a year, and upgrades from one version to the next could be tricky, although that’s much better now.

Fedora tends to be pretty bleeding-edge compared to most regular-release-cycle distros – that’s why the codeword “innovative” features heavily in the project’s mission statement. The Reg has liked Fedora for a long time. The new shiny that works in Fedora, when it ends up boring and stable, goes into RHEL. As RH puts it, Fedora is “upstream” of RHEL.

RHEL, on the other hand, was and is commercial: you can only get RHEL by buying it, which in reality means buying a support contract. But it’s still FOSS, meaning that RH is legally required to make the source code available. So anyone – not just customers – could download Red Hat’s source code packages for each and every package in RHEL, free of charge, and recompile them all to build a free clone of RHEL.

Various third parties started doing this and producing independent distros which were RHEL-compatible, such as Scientific Linux (from FermiLab) and White Box Linux (from the Beauregard Public Library in Louisiana). The biggest of these, CentOS (Community Enterprise OS), started in 2004.

The idea of these distros is that they are basically identical to RHEL, but with the names changed. Not just the same commands, but the same versions of the same binaries, with the same config files, in the same directories, for perfect compatibility. Whatever fixes RHEL got, soon afterwards the rebuilds got too. You could learn using a freebie prototype and test on it, but deploy on the real thing. Theoretically, if you didn’t want to pay for lots of RHEL licences, you could pay for one copy, get official support for it, but run all your other boxes on CentOS, and save a packet. You only get official support for one copy, but all the same methods and tools work on all of them.

Oh, and in 2006 that well-known friend of FOSS, Oracle, got into the game by making another such rebuild. This is often known by the name of its (paid, optional, and significantly cheaper than the official Red Hat Network) support service: Oracle Unbreakable Linux.

This was all fine, clear, and easy to understand. Sometimes, RH tried to make life difficult for the cloners, but they survived. Despite them, RHEL has been a huge success – by 2011 RH was the first billion-dollar Linux vendor.

The beginning of the end

Then in 2014 RH did something very strange: it brought CentOS in-house. So now the leading freebie was kinda-sorta officially sanctioned. Unsupported, but given the nod. Please pay for RHEL for your production boxes, but if you’d rather not, you could run CentOS Linux for nothing.

This was, obviously, very good for CentOS – but very bad for the other rebuilds, and as a result, most of them (except Oracle) shut down.

This left RH with an odd range of distro offerings. Before 2014, the positioning was clear: freeloaders got Fedora, and needed to upgrade regularly. If you wanted support, you paid for RHEL. After 2014: if you want stability and support, please buy RHEL; if you don’t want to pay, well, there’s our fast-moving, free community distro… or, you could have this nice stable distro that’s identical to RHEL, and it’s free, you just get no support. Effectively, the company offered a free product specifically designed to compete with its own commercial flagship.

Compare this to SUSE’s easier-to-understand proposition: you can download a complete, fully functional evaluation version of any of its products, but you only get a 60-day trial period. After that, no more updates.

Or run the free openSUSE Leap, which has the same release cycle as SUSE Linux Enterprise. If you want support, for a price you can migrate from Leap direct to SUSE Linux Enterprise.

It took RH about five years, but eventually it appeared to realise this. In the company’s terms, CentOS Linux was “downstream” of RHEL; although the word “community” is prominent on the CentOS site, there wasn’t any way to contribute to it: it was a straightforward rebuild of RHEL.

The first visible result was a new direction for CentOS, with CentOS Linux 9 being cancelled and CentOS Linux itself being replaced by CentOS Stream in 2019.

Rather than duplicating RHEL’s release cycle, the new Stream edition gets a continuous stream of updates. Critically, this means it’s no longer a one-to-one exact duplicate of RHEL; from the sales point of view, it’s no longer competing directly with its parent product.

For the company, this is all good. Presumably, it didn’t tempt many CentOS Linux users to cross the Stream, because just five months later, the company announced that the end of life for CentOS Linux 8 was dropping from 2029 to 2021 – 36 months sooner than the version 7.

As is its wont, RH prefers to phrase this in terms of upstreams, downstreams, and communities. Before, RHEL was downstream of Fedora, and CentOS Linux was downstream of RHEL. Now, CentOS Stream is downstream of Fedora, and RHEL is downstream of CentOS Stream.

The company’s Rich Bowen told us: “From my perspective as a community manager, CentOS Linux was not open source, was not a collaborative project, and was not really a community in any meaningful way. CentOS Stream gives us the opportunity to make CentOS into an actual community project, with an actual contributor/collaborator path.”

Which is laudable and entirely understandable. In principle, migrating from CentOS Linux 8 to CentOS Stream 8 is as simple as two commands:

dnf swap centos-linux-repos centos-stream-repos

dnf distro-sync

RH also offers a tool to migrate from CentOS Linux direct to RHEL – which looks considerably simpler than the documented upgrade path from RHEL 7 to 8.

Interestingly, Bowen told us: “If people want or need (or think they do) a 1:1 RHEL rebuild… we are working very closely with Alma to make sure that they have what they need.”

This even extends to major version upgrades: “At this time, we don’t have a Stream 8 to 9 migration tool. However, the folks at Alma are working on ELevate which will have that as a feature.”

Red Hat made a mistake when it adopted CentOS. CentOS Linux fans may disagree, but for all the grief killing it off has caused, the current steps are fixing the mess the company made for itself. RH is doing all it can to give CentOS Linux users a choice of migration paths, including smoothing the way for people to jump to Stream.

Stream itself should offer smaller, less dramatic updates and be more competitive with the other server distros out there, for which Fedora was frankly never an ideal choice. It also gives the denizens of the Hativerse a way to gain some input into the direction of RHEL. And it’s especially good to see Big Purple cooperating with other distros. ®

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VMware fixes buggy vSphere release – and Log4J, too • The Register

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VMware has restored availability of vSphere 7 Update, a release that it withdrew in late 2021 after driver dramas derailed deployments.

Paul Turner, Virtzilla’s veep for vSphere product management, told The Register that the source of the problem was Intel driver updates that arrived out of sync with VMware’s pre-release testing program. When users adopted the new drivers – one of which had been renamed – vSphere produced errors that meant virtual server fleet managers could not sustain high availability operations.

Turner said around 30,000 customers had adopted the release, of which around eight per cent encountered the issue. That collection of around 2,400 impacted users was enough for VMware to pull the release before the other 270,000 vSphere users hit trouble. That level of potential problems, Turner admitted, was considered a sufficient threshold to justify a do-over and the embarrassment of a pulled release.

VMware has since reviewed its testing program and procedures in the hope it will avoid a repeat of this error. Doing so, and repairing the release, meant a busier-than-usual holiday period for VMware developers. Turner said those who put in the extra hours will be compensated with extra time off in the future.

VMware also used the time needed to get the release ready to ensure that vSphere 7 U3 thoroughly addresses the Log4j bug. It took the opportunity to update to the latest version of the tool – which is free of the critical bug that allowed almost any code to execute without authorisation.

But VMware decided not to add anything new to vSphere while it addressed Log4j and sorted out the driver drama. Users will have to wait a few more months for another dose of VMware’s usual concoction of security updates and feature tweaks.

There’s more interesting stuff on the way, too. VMware has promised a full vSphere-as-a-Service offering is in the works, and the Project Capitola software-defined memory tech that will pool RAM across hosts. The company has also dropped hints that its plan to run its ESX hypervisor on SmartNICs is nearing release.

VMware has detailed the new/old release here and made downloads available here

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Facebook given EU go-ahead to pursue controversial Kustomer acquisition

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The EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said she was satisfied for the company now known as Meta to pursue its Kustomer acquisition after it struck a deal for rivals.

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has secured antitrust approval from the EU to pursue its acquisition of US customer services software start-up Kustomer.

The social media giant’s decision to acquire the start-up attracted EU scrutiny last April, months before its rebrand. Then known as Facebook, the company planned to integrate Kustomer’s products, including a chatbot, into its service.

Now, Meta has assured the European Commission that it will provide rivals free access to its messaging channels for 10 years.

The EU was satisfied that this addressed competition concerns which previously arose from the company’s decision to acquire Kustomer.

“Our decision today will ensure that innovative rivals and new entrants in the customer relationship management software market can effectively compete,” EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

Last December, Vestager’s Digital Markets Act was passed by EU lawmakers as part of the body’s plans to tighten the monopoly large multinationals hold in Europe’s digital space.

Facebook had initially announced its acquisition plan in November 2020. In February 2021, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties wrote to the European Commission outlining its concerns over data that Kustomer had gathered and what might happen to that data under Facebook’s watch. The Commission also received a referral request from Austria flagging concerns over the Kustomer deal.

Other Meta acquisitions have also attracted the scrutiny of competition regulators. Last November, the UK ordered Meta to sell Giphy after its acquisition of the GIF making company was found to have breached competition rules. In the US, it is facing an antitrust suit that could force the company to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.

The EU’s decision to allow Meta to pursue the acquisition of Kustomer comes following a recent vote in the European Parliament in favour of the Digital Services Act, a companion of the Digital Markets Act. The act represents the EU’s attempt to shift the balance of power away from Big Tech in favour of ordinary people.

The long-debated act was hailed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as a “gold standard”.

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Now that I’ve finally played The Last of Us, who wants to talk about that ending? | Games

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‘OK, Dad, this is an incredible essay on the effects of grief and grey morality in a postapocalyptic society,” says the eldest child, AKA the millennial. “It’s got proper female characters, progressive takes on sexuality and tonnes of rain.”

“They’ve made a video game of The Handmaid’s Tale?”

“No, Dad. It’s The Last of Us. Don’t worry. It’s still a zombie shooter. And both games have the best ending ever.”

Now she has my interest. Video game endings fascinate me, because my generation started out with arcade games that didn’t have them. Pac-Man kept eating dots and chasing ghosts and the Space Invaders kept coming, wave after incessant wave. The first arcade game that had an actual ending was Dragon’s Lair and nobody actually saw that because it was so hard to complete.

I have a tough start with The Last of Us because I hate games where you search for stuff in every room of a house. I spend my normal life doing that with car keys and headphones. I want games where you walk into a room and all the objects get sucked into a magic pocket. But that isn’t realistic, I hear you cry. Well, neither is only being able to carry three shivs in a world where, despite the zombie apocalypse, cargo pants clearly still exist.

The Last of Us.
Jaw-dropping … The Last of Us. Photograph: Sony

I also hate any form of crafting, because that was what my generation had to do for “fun” as kids before we had video games. Whether it’s smoke bombs from sugar and explosives or a set of Action Man drawers from matchboxes, it’s all boring to me.

“Keep going,” I tell myself. “The millennial says it’s got the best ending ever.”

Throughout the first chapter of Joel and Ellie’s jaunt across a post-infected US I keep trying to guess what this great ending will be. Maybe Ellie isn’t immune to infection after all? Maybe Joel is her real father? Maybe they’re both unwitting participants in some reality TV show, I’m Infected Get Me Out of Here?

As you will all know by now – and if you’ve yet to play The Last of Us then please stop reading – the ending has Joel murder a perfectly innocent and well-intentioned doctor who wants to cut Ellie open to find a cure that will save humanity. But Joel has no truck with utilitarian philosophy, because Ellie has now become a replacement for the daughter he lost. So, he disregards mankind’s future and, by stopping the operation, effectively murders the entire human race (alongside a whole hospital’s worth of doctors).

“Why does he do that?” I asked the millennial, in one of many fantastic discussions we had about the game.

“Because he’s a white male,” came the answer, because it’s 2022 and she’s in her 20s. And maybe she’s right. Either way it is a jaw-dropping, supremely brave ending and the terrific Left Behind side-story also brought the feels.

The Last of Us Part 2
Grey morality … Ellie in The Last of Us Part 2. Photograph: Naughty Dog

So, when it came to The Last of Us Part 2, I was beyond excited. Fifty million hours later I was beyond disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, the millennial nailed it when she said it was a great exploration of the effects of grief and grey morality. But after spending the whole game switching between two strong female characters (literally, have you seen Abby’s arms?) and contrasting factional creeds, you have the final confrontation. They fight. And … they both live. And go their separate ways. The only real damage is Ellie losing a couple of fingers, and the game portrays the worst consequence of this as not being able to play guitar any more. Seriously? That’s the biggest drawback to being fingerless in a zombie apocalypse? The first game ended with Joel murdering an entire civilisation, the second ends with Ellie murdering one song on a guitar. It’s a scene you might have found in The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s hilarious.

The Last of Us Part 2 leaves us with exactly the same non-ending as those original arcade games. Ellie and Abby will go on killing to keep their respective postapocalyptic factions going, both driven by the grief of murdered loved ones. They are both trapped, endlessly chasing ghosts. Sounds familiar…

The millennial says this shows there are no winners when it comes to revenge. I say they want both protagonists alive for The Last of Us 3. It’s a cynical cop out. But then, The Last of Us Part 2 is a game that features the most cynical scene ever, where apropos of nothing, after genuinely bravura portrayals of women, transgender and gay characters, alpha female Abby suddenly gets rogered from behind by some guy. It happens out of nowhere. The game spends umpteen hours portraying progressive sexuality, and then it’s like some marketing man decided they needed to toss the incels a piece of red meat to stop them hate-bombing all over 4chan (which didn’t work). It is easily the most gratuitous bit of nudity I have ever seen in games, and I have played The Witcher 3. The rogerer in question even has a girlfriend. Who is pregnant. Way to shit on a sister, Abby.

“It’s basically Pac-Man with gratuitous boobs,” I say to my eldest, who sighs and pours herself a large cup of coffee. This will be another long discussion.

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