Updated: July 25, 2011
Waiting for CentOS is almost like buying my Golf GTI thingie. A long wait. Just kidding. I'm just parsimonious, that's all, meaning made of persimmons. Anyhow, CentOS 6 is finally here, and I have waited most eagerly for its release. While Scientific Linux did soften the anticipation somewhat, I was still looking forward to trying the latest release.
Without further ado, let's see what CentOS 6 can do, and shortly, we might also give the upcoming service pack yet another spin. Either way, I want to know if CentOS might be a good candidate for my super-long-support desktop distro plan. With support into 2016 or longer, this could be the golden operating system that everyone wants and needs; simple yet modern, fast and stable. So, is it?
I tested CentOS, DVD, Gnome edition of my T60p machine, which has 2GB RAM and an elderly ATI card. This is not the typical platform for CentOS, as it is intended for servers, which will normally have 64-bit processors and a ton of RAM. Even so, I wanted to see how well CentOS compares to typical modern desktop distributions. Based on RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6, which is in turn based on Fedora 12, it should be comparable to a standard mid-2010 Linux. No live CD/DVD testing this time, but I'm going to do that in the future.
The installation went smoothly, but it was a bit long, copying some 4GB of data onto the local disk. There were two small issues: 1) the fact I could not configure the Wireless network during the setup 2) Kdump configuration failed, complaining about insufficient memory, which could be due the fact most of the memory was taken by the operating system. We'll talk about Kdump more later on. All of this happened without screenshots, so some faith and imagination are required at this point. But we'll get to bling-bling shortly.
Using CentOS - Classic art
Visually, CentOS is not much different from RHEL, or Fedora for that matter. You get a simple and elegant Gnome session that probably will not thrill most people, but it can be easily tweaked to elegance while providing good stability and devouring minimal resources. The looks are much fresher than CentOS 5, which is the last version I tried here on Dedoimedo.
Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba sharing
Worked without a hitch. In fact, I was surprised by the network speed CentOS exhibited when copying files from network machines. It really maxed the throughput well, even when reading and writing to NTFS partitions residing inside encrypted containers on external USB disks connected to Windows hosts residing at a far end of an encrypted Wireless LAN hood. Yes, you got it right. Which means Samba sharing works great. You get the NTFS support, so no worries there.
You might think this would hurt. But it doesn't. The only step you must do is configure one or more extra repositories that contain some of that delicious forbidden proprietary fruit, and RPMforge is always a good option. Grab the RPM files, install and start searching for your codecs. Or better yet, let your utilities prompt you for missing plugins.
Indeed, Flash, MP3 and even Microsoft Media Server (MMS) worked great, including the helpful prompts to search for plugins. Apple trailers did fail me, I must admit. Notice the proper use of singular and plural in the messages, this/these, such an easily omitted detail.
You get those too, no worries!
The one bit that is a little weak is the applications repertoire. You get a handful of useful stuff, but it sure won't excite you. There's OpenOffice, Pidgin, Brasero, Rhythmbox, and a few other useful programs. You should power up yum and get some extras.
Fast, that's the only word I have. Better than Fedora by far. I'm guessing some more tweaking was done, but it works flawlessly. You also get to see the size of package downloads and installations, which I don't recall in the open-source pioneer.
System stability, resource usage, suspend & resume
Stability = 100%. Perfect. Suspend & resume worked fine. And the resource usage is minimal, just about 170MB. The system is also quite fast and responsive. Just like Fedora, sans the crashes and bugs. And much better than most Gnomes. It's a treat.
Printing also worked fine, including a network printer over Samba.
Kdump also worked in the installed system. It was just insufficient memory during the installation that prevented the crash dump configuration. More of a glitch that a real problem.
Modern stuff? You may be interested in stuff like Chromium, Firefox 765 or maybe LibreOffice. If you look around online, you will find repositories readily available, so you can stay current and modern without compromising on the long-term stability and support that CentOS offers. gconf-editor is not installed by default, but you can get it in the repositories.
And problems? No, not really! The only thing that bugged me was that Nautilus was not using browser windows by default. That sums my frustration with this distro.
And here's my final desktop:
Now, here's what I intend to do. Sorry for deviating from the topic of the review, but it will shed you a bit more light on my CentOS plans. I have an external disk full of Linux distros, which I boot from either my LG RD510 or my HP Pavilion dv6-2130ej laptops, depending what kind of hardware stuff I need at that moment. Since both machines run Intel processors and Nvidia cards, there are no conflicts with drivers.
So, I'm planning on getting a proper 64-bit edition of CentOS installed on the external disk and used to its full power, including KVM and maybe even Xen virtualization and definitely all the 3D stuff that graphics card can offer. It's going to be a blast.
Bear with me just a moment longer. My home production setup includes mostly openSUSE and Ubuntu at home. No Natty with Unity, just Lucid and a sprinkling of Maverick. Well, I'm considering replacing some of these Ubuntu setups with Linux Mint and Kubuntu when the time comes. And now, I have another strong candidate, CentOS.
I must admit Scientific Linux did impress me, but there were a few glitches there and then that sort of spoiled the sacred RedHat stability. But CentOS simply remains the unrivaled champion of rock solid, and with excellent and modern capabilities, good performance and ultra-long support, it's the just desktop I'm looking for. The fun part is, it's not even supposed to be a desktop! Blimey!
CentOS 6 is a very beautiful, polished product. It took longer than an elephant's gestation, but it was worth it, every minute of that wait. CentOS 6 is fast, stable and modern. It coped well with my hardware, offering top notch results, even beyond my expectations, including a very decent multimedia experience, superb network and sharing throughout, a very small memory footprint accompanied with snappy response, and even desktop effects.
Compared to Mint and openSUSE, CentOS 6 is a most capable contestant. It can complete in all the important and relevant categories, but it also comes with an advantage the other two do not have: a support unto eternity. If you're like me, not looking forward to reinstalling your operating system every six months and suffering from regressions, then CentOS seems ideal. It gives a lot and asks for very little in return. I'm mightily pleased. The applications stack could be more colorful and the installation speedier, but that's all.
Final grade: 9.8/10. This is a superb distro for your desktop. Try it, now.