Red Hat is a very big name in the open source community. Not only is it one of the most well-known companies that profit off of open source, but they’re also responsible for Fedora, one of the most popular home distros. Their dedication to open source and free software is admirable, and because of this, most of the packages that make up Red Hat Enterprise Linux are readily available. This is how CentOS is made, by taking these files and using them to create a distro that is near identical to RHEL.
CentOS firmly sits in the stable category of Linux releases – packages are rarely the the very latest versions, the kernel used is much older and it even still has GNOME 2 as its desktop environment, all in the name of cutting down on bugs. While it is stable and capable of running on older tech, it isn’t as resource friendly as distros specifically geared towards being lightweight. Especially if you pick up the full DVD image of the distro, clocking in at nearly 2 GB, which carries multiple desktop environments and a lot of default apps.
The live environment for CentOS runs well, using the GNOME desktop environment and including a majority, if not all of, the default applications it installs. The installer itself is still the older style Red Hat-based affair, as the current Anaconda installer used in Fedora has yet to be implemented yet. It’s fairly quick, although you don’t have much more control over what’s installed other than some advanced drive partitioning – no package groups or desktops can be selected or deselected.
User creation is handled post-install, which has its advantages, especially for OEM uses. Some options also require an extra reboot before finally getting to the desktop, however it’s short and generally improves the experience and stability of the distro.
Straight to desktop
While CentOS is perfectly usable via a CLI, it installs with both GNOME 2 and KDE 4/Plasma with the DVD version. These are the only two available desktops in the CentOS repos, so you’ll have to compile other desktops yourself if you want to make it a little more lightweight. For some older systems though, the GNOME 2 implementation is light enough not to cause too many issues, and the kernel is smaller than some of the newer versions.
For the enterprise situations it’s marketed towards, CentOS is well prepared. With the focus on stability, all the available and default applications are fairly solid, and the networking and security is top notch. One of the major new features added to this version of COS was the Precision Time Protocol, allowing for much greater accuracy in syncing clocks over a network. For very time sensitive operations, this is essential, and a great addition that expands its uses.
In terms of using it at home though, some people may be a little frustrated by the limitations for media, and lack of up-to-date software. This can be partially rectified with the use of something like RPM Fusion. However, if you truly want to be on the cutting edge with some software while keeping the core stability, you’ll have to start compiling a lot of your packages from source – fine for some people, but not the way everyone wants to use Linux.
While it is very stable, and it is an almost identical version of Red Hat, there are the odd, very minor bugs. These mostly occur in a situation where you’re using both RHEL and CentOS on the same network trying to share resources – pattern matches for non-RHEL systems can cause issues. Red Hat won’t help with support in these cases, however in such cases it’s usually better to have a homogenous ecosystem, or just to remove the offending matching altogether.
CentOS is still a fantastic Linux distro, and one of the best for doing some serious work. While some may not be too keen on its approach to pure free software and the use of older Red Hat packages, it allows for a very secure and stable experience with proven and familiar technology. For Fedora users, it’s a good first step into a more Red Hat like experience, in fact some people use it to help get their RHCE certification. It may not be the best for your home office though.
CentOS is a great distro for anything that requires safety and stability, and a good move for those that like Fedora at home. There are a few minor bugs here and there when trying to use specific Red Hat technology, but nothing that can’t be worked around.