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RHEL and Alma Linux 9.3 arrive – one is free, one merely free of charge

The Hat adds tool to facilitate migration from various free RHEL-a-like distros

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

Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 9.3 appeared last week, followed some five days later by Alma Linux 9.3, the now somewhat more distanced rebuild. Both projects are the latest semi-annual updates, following version 9.2 back in May, to the original version 9.0 releases, which came out in May last year.

The release cycle of RHEL and its kin is very different to that of Ubuntu and most consumer distros, where a new point release means an entirely new version of the distro with newer versions of most or all of its components. A RHEL point release is more like a Debian point release, and the Rocky Linux wiki has a good explanation of the cadence, end of life and so on. Each successive point release contains the same versions of all its significant components, notably the kernel and so on, thus maximizing compatibility. However, optional newer versions of some subcomponents may be on offer, such as programming languages, which shouldn't break existing deployments.

Both Alma and RHEL come with any desktop you like, so long as it's GNOME 40.4 – the same as before.

Both Alma and RHEL come with any desktop you like, so long as it's GNOME 40.4 – the same as before (click to enlarge)

Thus, as a point release, RHEL 9.3 mostly consists of updates to existing versions of components. For instance, it comes with the same kernel version, but with many added bug-fixes and improvements, as described at this summer's DevConf.cz in Brno.

Nonetheless, as usual, there are some new features, mostly things that won't break backwards compatibility. So for instance, RHEL has a set of system roles, defined in Ansible, and now the Podman role includes Quadlet, a formerly separate tool from Flatpak creator Alexand Larsson for improving systemd's container handling, as described in a Red Hat blog post early this year. The web console now has better health checks for Podman, too.

A new Convert2RHEL tool facilitates migration from various free RHEL-a-like distros. A new image builder makes it easier to create OS images for deployment into both private and public clouds as well as 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 Red Hat's contender in the next-gen storage subsystem space, Stratis. We looked at version 3.3 about a year ago, but development has continued, and Stratis 3.6 appeared last month. That's a bit too recent for RHEL 9.3, which includes version 3.5 from January.

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

Some notable parts are that the Keylime edge, cloud and IoT security tool has been bumped to version 7.3, and OpenSSH is less keen to talk the not so secure SHA-1 protocol. There are AppStream packaged updates to Node.js 20, Java 21, and Redis 7, but since AppStreams are effectively RHEL's equivalent of Fedora's Modularity, that is destined to disappear in some future version.

Hardware support on Arm64 has improved, and the OSes can now drive Bluetooth, wifi adaptors, and USB-attached webcams, among other features. The dnf command can automatically reboot or shutdown the machine if required, and it can display "leaves", orphaned packages upon which nothing depends. The command to reconfigure the GRUB 2 bootloader has picked up some more options, but there's still no direct replacement for the Debian family's handy update-grub command.

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

Bootnote

We need a handy term to cover RHEL and its related projects such as Alma Linux and Rocky Linux. We propose collectively dubbing them RHELatives, but we're open to better worse ideas.

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