What Is Oracle Linux? The Powerful, Free RHEL Alternative Explained

If Red Hat’s “change in direction” regarding CentOS left you scrambling for a replacement, or perhaps you want an enterprise-grade Linux distro to learn on but don’t want to deal with Red Hat’s restrictions, consider transitioning to Oracle Linux.

Let’s discuss Oracle Linux in detail along with reasons why you might want to install it.


What Is Oracle Linux?

Oracle Linux is, as the name suggests, a Linux distribution created by Oracle. It’s based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or RHEL, and aims for full compatibility with that distro. Oracle even has scripts that let you convert from RHEL or CentOS to Oracle Linux.

Oracle Linux is engineered for reliability using technology acquired from Sun Microsystems like DTrace. DTrace is a tool to let you examine kernel and program behavior. It’s extremely useful for developers working on system software as well as system administrators.

It’s also possible to update the kernel live without having to reboot, which is attractive to businesses who want as little downtime as possible. You need a contract with Oracle to get access to this feature, though.

Oracle Linux is an enterprise-grade Linux distro that’s available completely free of charge and backed by one of the largest software companies in the world. For all of the reasons mentioned above, it’s attracted high-profile corporate clients such as United Airlines and the Progressive insurance company. Oracle also uses it internally for its own cloud deployments.

Oracle Linux also uses the XFS file system, as other RHEL-based distros do. It also uses the DNF package manager. Anyone familiar with RHEL, Fedora, or CentOS should feel at home with Oracle Linux.

Enterprise Linux Without the Enterprise Contract

One thing that makes Oracle Linux attractive over vanilla RHEL is that there’s no licensing fee. Red Hat does offer a free subscription for individual developers, but you have to join their program and you’re limited to 16 machines.

With Oracle Linux, you can just download the ISO, extract it to your installation media, and you can install it just like any other Linux distro. You can run it on as many machines as you like, even a whole data center of servers. You only have to pay a fee if you want a support contract from Oracle. You can evaluate Oracle Linux and see if it’s for you and your business before you sign on the dotted line.

If you’re developing a Linux server-based application or want to learn more about Red Hat-style distros, you might want to consider Oracle Linux. If you’re thinking about a career in IT, learning Oracle Linux would be worth your time, as many enterprise Linux servers use Red Hat-style distros.

The Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel

Another feature that distinguishes Oracle Linux from RHEL is the use of what Oracle calls the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel.

While UEK aims for maximum compatibility with Red Hat, the kernel is, as the name suggests, engineered for maximum reliability. UEK is the default kernel, but an alternate Red Hat-Compatible Kernel is also available with the system. The latter is meant for those who need a system closer to RHEL or the old CentOS.

Oracle Linux Installation

Installation of Oracle Linux is similar to other Red Hat-style distros. You download the installation media from Oracle Linux’s download page, boot it, and find yourself in a graphical installation menu.

The first thing you should do is enable your network interface, or you’ll find yourself installing a system without a usable internet connection.

After that, you have the usual time zone, partition setup, and package selection. You can install anything from a minimal server to a full desktop. After you’ve installed your system, you can get to work.

You don’t even have to install Oracle Linux as a standalone Linux distro. It’s available on Windows under Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). If you’ve installed WSL already, you can just install Oracle Linux from the Microsoft Store page on Windows 10 or 11.

With WSL, you don’t get the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel, because WSL works differently than a standard Linux installation. The Windows kernel either emulates Linux system calls or runs a separate Linux kernel, depending on whether you’re using WSL1 or WSL2.

Like the other WSL distros, you get a minimal command-line environment. If you’ve installed WSLg on Windows 11, you can run graphical Linux apps on Oracle Linux. As with other WSL distros, Oracle Linux is useful for testing web applications locally and for learning your way around the command line.

Oracle Linux as a Desktop

While Oracle Linux targets enterprise servers, it makes a decent desktop. At installation time, select “Workstation” and make sure important tools like internet applications and the office suite are installed.

When you install a desktop system, you’ll find many tools and apps from other Linux distros. The default desktop is GNOME, and you’ll also find other familiar apps like Mozilla Firefox and LibreOffice.

Oracle Linux is a reliable, conventional Linux desktop. Running it with the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel on the desktop might seem like overkill. If Fedora seems too fast-paced for you but you like stable distros like Debian, you might enjoy using Oracle Linux as a desktop.

You Can Convert From RHEL/CentOS to Oracle Linux

One attractive feature of Oracle Linux is that you can switch places from other Red Hat-derived distros like RHEL or CentOS to Oracle Linux without having to reinstall the operating system on your machine.

Oracle even provides a script to switch CentOS servers to Oracle Linux on GitHub.

RHEL customers who want to switch can also change their system after creating an account. Oracle also provides customers instructions for changing over their RHEL servers on their website. It’s mostly a matter of pointing the package manager to the right servers. It’s nothing beyond the ability of the average sysadmin. You do actually have to have a support contract from Oracle to switch from RHEL servers.

Oracle Linux Is a Viable Alternative to CentOS

If you’re comfortable with a distro managed by a major software conglomerate, Oracle Linux could prove to be a capable replacement for Red Hat Enterprise Linux or CentOS.

Unlike with RHEL, you don’t have to jump through hoops to try it out. You can install it as a server or desktop just as with other distros, and even convert any existing systems to Oracle Linux.

Oracle Linux isn’t the only alternative to CentOS. There are many other Linux distros that are much better than CentOS and Oracle Linux.

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