CentOS, Community ENTerprise Operating System, is a Linux distribution derived from Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Not many would consider it a desktop distribution, but it could be configured as one, though it requires a bit more tweaking than other well known desktop distributions to just work. The latest stable version, CentOS 6, was released on July 10, 2011.
This article started from an attempt to assess the suitability of CentOS 6 as a desktop distribution for new users. What follows is a 2-page writeup of my experience.
The first edition that was released was an installation DVD image. Subsequent releases where of the Live CD variety. The test installations, on real hardware and in a virtual environment, used for this review, were carried out using the DVD installation image. Shown below is a screenshot of the boot menu.
Installer and Installation Process: CentOS uses the Anaconda installer, the same installer used by Fedora and several other Linux distributions. However, the version of Anaconda on CentOS 6 is at least two revisions behind the version used on Fedora 15, the latest stable edition of Fedora. It has support for LVM, RAID, and disk encryption.
The installer makes it extremely easy to configure disk encryption, and because LVM is the default disk partitioning scheme, choosing the disk encryption option and sticking with the default installation mode is the same thing as configuring encrypted LVM. Debian, Mandriva, Ubuntu (the alternate text-installer, not the Live CD version) are other Linux distributions with support for creating encrypted LVM installations.
If you stick with the default disk partitioning scheme, the installer will create a non-LVM boot partition of 500 MB, and logical volumes for the root directory, Swap, and, depending on available disk space, a logical volume for /home. Ext4 is the default journaling file system, and ext3 is the only other journaling file system supported. Btrfs, the journaling file system with built-in volume management, has not yet made it into CentOS.
GRUB Legacy is the only bootloader available and there is the option to configure a password to protect it.
The default installation is a minimal server system, but the installer makes it very easy to install GNOME-based desktop.
Desktop: A default installation of CentOS 6 desktop is based on the GNOME desktop environment, and the default wallpaper is easy on the eyes. But that is just about it. Important features that should work out of the box, do not. For example, The network interface has to be enabled manually from the NetworkManager applet on the top panel. Sometimes, it even requires running the dhclient command to get it working.
And if you are expecting the latest GNOME 2 or even GNOME 3 on CentOS 6, you are going to be disappointed. It comes with GNOME 2.28.
Installed and Available Applications: A default desktop installation of CentOS 6 features an application set that will not meet the desktop computing needs of most users. Remember, however, that you could customize what is installed during the installation process. And of course, more applications can be installed afterwards. Aside from the standard stock set of system utilities and desktop accessories, here are some notable applications installed:
- Cheese Webcam Booth
- Totem video player
- Evolution Mail and Calendar
- Ekiga, the VoIP and Video Conferencing Software
- Totem Media Player
- Firefox 3.6.9
- Pidgin Internet Messenger
- Rhythmbox music player
- OpenOffice.org 3.2
Firefox is the only non-text browser installed, and it is the only one in the repository. And without a Flash or Java plugin installed, Firefox is no fun to use. In fact, many of the applications that would make the system usable, are not even in the repository.
Enabling third-party repositories, like RPMFusion and Elrepo are your best bets, if you want to have access to applications not in the default repositories.
Software Management: Yum, Yellowdog Updater Modified, is the preferred command line software manager for CentOS 6, and the installed graphical package manager is Gpk-Application. Starting it does not require authentication, but that is, of course, a requirement before any application can be installed. Out of the box, the system is configured to check for updates daily, and the update notification application works.
These are the default repositories on a default installation of CentOS 6 desktop. Applications from these are mostly outdated.