Review: CentOS 5.2

This month’s Linux Format Magazine came with CentOS 5.2 on the disc. CentOS, in case you don’t know, is a community supported version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. (RHEL) Again, in the unlikely case you don’t know – Red Hat is required to supply the source code to all GPL code it uses in RHEL. What they don’t have to do is supply the Source RPMs which make it extremely easy for a distro like CentOS to exist. They can take the SRPMs and just remove the Red Hat artwork/logos and repackage it off as their own. The GPL allows this. Why in the world would Red Hat do this? They are, in a way, helping for a gratis version of their distro to exist and take away money that might otherwise go to them.

Well, here’s my take on it – which could be completely wrong. If a company out there wants to have a gratis distro, there are plenty from which to make its pick. It could use Debian, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Gentoo, Slackware…the list goes on. So the fact that there are many gratis Linux distros out there means that they aren’t just competing against gratis. But, you might argue, those distros are not RHEL so they don’t really compete. Ok, then the company could use Fedora because Fedora is upstream for RHEL. So Fedora is what RHEL will look like in a future release. But Fedora tends to be bleeding edge and is only supported for 18 months. (edit: I think it’s actually only supported for 13 months…)The current version of Red Hat is supported until 2014!  So what is their reason making things easy for CentOS?

I believe it’s two-fold.  First, the CentOS team wants a good distro so they participate in the RHEL betas to try and make sure they can catch as many bugs as possible.  So Red Hat gets a free bug-testing and development team without any extra expenditures.  But, more importantly, Red Hat gains mind-share.  Right now there are two major corporate Linux distros – Red Hat and Suse.  If you can get people used to the Red Hat way of doing things by allowing them to cut their teeth on CentOS, they will probably remain loyal to Red Hat, get Red Hat certified, and push for Red Hat in their workplace.  I think that’s probably the biggest thing Red Hat gets in all of this.  I could be completely wrong, but I know Red Hat isn’t doing this out of the kindness of their heart.  They are a publicly traded company with shareholders to answer to.  If giving away the SRPMs was harmful to the revenue stream you can bet they’d be forced to stop that in a heart-beat.

Well, enough with the history lesson.  I’ve run Fedora ever since Fedora 1 when I first got into Linux because I wanted to run my own web server.  Eventually I switched to FreeBSD because of the difficulty in doing rolling upgrades in Fedora.  Had I heard about CentOS at the time, I might be running that now on my server since it has much longer support terms.  Centos 5.2 is binary-compatible with RHEL 5.2.  This means that any program that runs on RHEL 5.2 should run “exactly” the same on Centos 5.2.  According to wikipedia, RHEL 5 is based on Fedora Core 6.  So, I’ll take a look and see just what this means when it comes to using CentOS.  I’m going to aim for a desktop setup as opposed to a server setup as RHEL also has a desktop configuration.  I’ll be installing it in VirtualBox.  So here we go.

This looks exactly the same as when I’ve installed Fedora.  I tell it to do the graphical boot as I’m very familiar with that.

It’s absolutely no shock that CentOS uses Anaconda and looks exactly like a Fedora install.  Just as Fedora has done for a while now (since 5 or so), the drive is formatted with Logical Volume Management (LVM).  I am very shocked, considering that most people probably run CentOS/RHEL as a server that the default partitioning is to have everything on / instead of a separate /var and /home.  For the most part, it’s an extremely uneventful installation routine for someone that’s installed Fedora over 10 times.

I stick with a Gnome desktop and also add Packages from CentOS Extras.  Since Fedora 6 is from before the merger of Core and Extras, I am sure to want packages from CentOS Extras.  Then I began the actual package installation and went to bed because I was very tired and, in my experience, Fedora takes 15-20 minutes to install on a good day.  When I woke up it was ready for the first reboot.

The rest was just as easy as Fedora.  And sound worked!  Of course, since it’s based on Fedora 6, it uses the old version of GDM.

So I log in.  The default desktop and icons remind me of how ugly Fedora used to look.  No offense to the art team that came up with those icons, but the theme Gnome/Fedora is using now is much better looking.

So, what does CentOS 5.2 come with?  In a delightful surprise, Firefox 3 Beta 5 is included by default!  So, one of the questions I set out to answer was whether someone could run CentOS as a safe version of Fedora.  People often complain that Fedora is so bleeding edge and they want something more stable.  People often point them to Debian or RHEL, but not as often to CentOS.  I think that’s a missed opportunity to keep them in the Red Hat ecosystem.  Also, it appears that just because you don’t have a bleeding edge distro it doesn’t mean you have to run extremely outdated software.  Afterall, Firefox 3 just came out this year!  While I’m sure that CentOS/RHEL are very conservative in general in their software packages, you can still get the latest Firefox, that great!   I have 44 updates – so we’ll see what version of Firefox I have after that.

Other packages included by default include  Open 2.3, The GIMP, Ekiga, Planner, Rhythmbox, Sound Juicer, and the default Gnome games.  Pup is the updater – as opposed to PackageKit in Fedora 9.  So I start updating.  Unlike Sabayon – it only took about 10 minutes.  It had installed a new kernel so I rebooted.

Now Firefox was at 3.0.2.  Open is still at 2.3.  I looked in the repos to see what was available.  Blender was not there.  Compiz is, surprisingly, available.  So you could have wobbly windows if you want, but no 3D modelling.

As I’ve mentioned throughout the article, I am very familiar with Fedora and I would say CentOS compares pretty well with Fedora.  I know I’ve only used it briefly, but I think I can recommend it for anyone who wants to have Red Hat technology, but thinks that Fedora moves too quickly and can’t afford RHEL.  The installation is pretty much exactly the same.  The packages you get in the end are roughly the same.  There are some things missing – such as Blender.  But perhaps you could download that RPM from somewhere else.  So, definitely check it out.  And, if you’re running a mission critical server – you really should be on CentOS/RHEL and NOT Fedora.

10 responses to “Review: CentOS 5.2”

  1. A nice semi-official source of extra software for RHEL/CentOS is the Fedora EPEL repository. It contains many of the Extras and other missing packages from Fedora that are not an official part of the RHEL/CentOS distribution.

  2. Good review and I agree that CentOS is where Fedora users should be if they want a longer lifecycle for updates. Fedora is not supported for 18 months, however. This link states that, on average, Fedora is usually supported at a maximum of 13 months. Fedora 8 will be supported for only one month past the official release of Fedora 10, and Fedora 9 will be supported for only one month after the release of Fedora 11.

    That in itself is why I stopped using Fedora for the most part and stuck with Ubuntu. I love Fedora, but the release cycle is too breakneck for my liking, plus I get to use all the newest technologies without installing to my hard drive – the best move Fedora made was the introduction of the Live CD via Fedora 6.

    Nice review! I agree CentOS has the capabilities of being just as good a desktop distro as it does a server, unless you’re the type that has to have every single program to it’s newest version.

  3. I am a sysadmin at the siena college school of science and we have been using centos on all of our ~20 servers, and all i can say is WOW. Centos / redhat is crazy stable. The only thing that interrupts us now are power outages. Centos is great!

  4. Siena*

    Yeah, I’m really a huge fan of Red Hat’s tech. And now that they’re working on making live upgrades officially supported, I’m not going to abandon them for another distro.

  5. Good review. I’m more of a stable, “trailing edge,” Linux user — so CentOS is a perfect fit for me (I’m also trying to work through some Red Hat studies.) I’ve never been particularly crazy about Fedora, but I downloaded 10 and installed it in VirtualBox and am wondering what I didn’t like about it. The install was as easy as CentOS — though I really like the net install option for CentOS.

    I don’t know if I’ll settle with Fedora and CentOS (Red Hat) for all my uses — Debian seems better on slower machines — but it’s definitely going to be my main OS. As for the “ugly” desktop… I’m getting to the point where I really don’t care. The Desktop is almost always in the background anyhow, and I find that I like the Blue Curve theme and the “solid” background.

    Choice is good. That’s just another reason why I like Linux.

    • Fedora 10 is really good. I think I read once that the even releases tend to be the stable ones. Maybe the even releases are what get rolled into RHEL? If you’re a trailing edge user, I’d definitely suggest sticking with CentOS. Fedora can sometimes put out a kernel that keeps you from booting properly or breaks your system. I doubt they do that on RHEL/CentOS. Also you HAVE to upgrade every 18 months if you want to keep up to date with security updates.

      • I think I probably will stick with CentOS, but it’s nice to know what’s going on with Fedora also. I may be trailing edge, but others I know enjoy the new, cutting edge stuff.

        Linux has a flavor for just about every taste. Good stuff.