25 Jul 2011

6 wonders of CentOS 6.0

Do you know what CentOS is?
No, this is a not a OS which costs you only one cent to buy. Although, I bought a DVD with Linux OS for 0.01 GBP once, it was not CentOS.
CentOS is actually free Operating System based on RedHat Enterprise Linux. In other words, group of enthusiasts took out source code of RHEL, which they have to publish as part of Linux license, re-branded it as CentOS and published for open and free usage.
I have already written couple of reviews of CentOS. They were versions 5.5 and 5.6. As you can remember, I was not much happy with either of those versions.
It took quite a lot of time for CentOS team to move from version 5.5. to 5.6. RHEL managed to churn out version 6.1 by the time of CentOS 5.6 release. But guys from CentOS team decided to roll up the sleeves and catch as fast as they can. So, just 3 months after version 5.6, new version CentOS 6.0 was released.
Live CD image was not in initial release, but appeared few days later. As you can understand, Live CD  weights just under 700 Mb.
Unfortunately, there is no information on official web site how to create Live USB from CD image. Wikipedia says that Unetbootin can create one, but it did not work for me. Finally, dd command was my choice.
USB stick is prepared and plugged into the port. Reboot and choose to boot from USB. Let's go!


Boot screen of CentOS 6.0 lists several options, including live boot (normal, basic video) and installation (normal, text mode).
My choice was obvious: Live run.
CentOS 6.0 boots quite quickly from USB stick. I got used that CD-RW with CentOS takes significant time to boot, so was pleased that time... Wonder #1. But that was just a beginning.
Yes, I understand that system has to boot from USB faster than from CD. But even among USB-booted systems, CentOS 6.0 looks pretty good. Only 1 minute 21 seconds from boot screen to ready-to-use system with network connection. This is longer than, say Linux Mint XFCE, but quicker than Fedora 13 or 15. You can check total scoreboard, if you wish.
I had no questions during the boot, except for above mentioned choice of the system and login request. Both options have countdowns, so not required to touch keyboard at all if you don't want. I simply pressed "Enter" to speed up the process.
Splash screen of CentOS 6.0 during the boot is quite nice from my point of view. To be honest, there is nothing extraordinary. Simple and elegant. Just like that. Do you need anything extra from the system boot screen? Yes, there are some systems which play hard rock at boot, but do you actually need this? Do you?

Network connection

Wonder #2 waited for me in the middle of the boot. WiFi indicator happily lighted up during the boot. Good news! Yes, WiFi card was recognised and my network was listed right after the boot. That is huge progress since versions 5.5 and 5.6 which refused to work with this card at all. Broadcom 4311 is now officially supported by CentOS out of the box!
CentOS is RHEL in different cover. RHEL is very slow-moving giant in terms of putting in new technology. It has to be, because of large commercial client database. But... 
If CentOS (effectively RHEL) supports Broadcom 4311 out of the box, I see no excuse from any distribution to not support this WiFi card straight away. Sorry guys, if I ever see distribution without proper support of Broadcom 4311 WiFi card from now on, I will definitely blame their developers as lazy and restrictive-minded. Even if this is Debian.
So... WiFi card is active. Few keystrokes to enter security key. Few mouse clicks... and I am connected to the Internet.

First acquittance

There are distributions which feature selection of desktop environments: Fedora, Mageia, Mandriva, Debian... continue as you like... you can have them with GNOME and KDE desktop environments, as well as many other.
And there are single-DE distributions. Pardus only has KDE, Bodhi only has Enlightenment to take few examples. CentOS is from second category.
"Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black."

Henry Ford
"Any customer can have any Desktop Environment  that he wants so long as it is GNOME."
Yes, CentOS only gives you a GNOME implementation of their OS. But KDE-lovers, please read further. I also like KDE, but diversity is what lays at the foundation of Linux world.
Default wallpaper of CentOS 6.0 is OK, but I found it boring. Actually there are not many to choose from. Other than default, there is a set of space-themed wallpapers, similar to Debian. Anyway, still better than default one.
Other than wallpaper, Live version of CentOS 6.0 has several items on the desktop and 2 panels: one at the top and application switcher at the bottom. Kind of standard GNOME layout.
By default user gets 2 virtual desktops. That's enough for beginning. If you need more, it is easy to change in Preferences by right click on desktop switcher in the right-bottom corner.

What is inside?

Of course, Desktop Environment is not the only thing you need for your system. It is just a beginning. What else does CentOS 6.0 have?
I should say that set of applications in CentOS 6.0 is very spartan. 
For example, there are no office tools at all. Not counting Gedit, of course.
Internet applications only have 3 items listed: Firefox, Thunderbird and Pidgin. And even here... Firefox is of version 3.6. That may be the version when RHEL 6.0 was released (CentOS keeps same version numbers in their rebranded system), but currently Firefox 5.0 is the latest.
Graphics applications only have 2 items listed. They are gThumb image viewer (very basic one) and (oh, wonder #3!) GIMP! Yes, developers of CentOS excluded productivity suite from distribution, but included image processor. Logic? My own logic fails to explain. By the way, not every graphic application is listed in menu. For example, screenshot tool is also available. But not listed in Graphics menu. It can be found in Accessories. This screenshot tool for some reason took few seconds to start after I pressed "Print Screen" button.
Multimedia tools are not widely represented too. Brasero, Totem Movie Player and Cheescam. Full stop. Carriage return. </ul> (if you know HTML). Bearing in mind that Movie Player, as any other modern multimedia player, can be used for most video and audio tracks, I don't think you need more. Maybe some kind of mixers / ALSA configuration tools? Maybe, but remember that CentOS and RHEL are mostly oriented to server market. And... read on to the Multimedia support section.
Of course CentOS 6.0 has some usual system tools - Disk utility, File browser (Guess? Nautilus!), Terminal.
Sure enough, CentOS has lots of system tools like Firewall and GNOME Package Manager. They are inevitable.
That's almost full list of applications. Imressively small, urgh?
As long as I mentioned GNOME Package Manager, let's look inside. List of available applications in Package Manager is quite big, but not impressive. I checked some usual suspects...

  • OpenOffice.org is there. 
  • LibreOffice is not!
  • Midnight Commander? Of course!
  • Neither Skype nor Qutim are listed.
  • I could only find Firefox browser there, neither Chrome, nor Chromium, nor Epiphany, nor Midori.

Of course, there are lots of independent repositories all around the Internet. It is not difficult to find RPM for many applications. But official repository still sits above them all.
Just to get a flavour, I tried to install Chrome from official Google site, and it worked without any issues. It started and worked as quickly as in usual system. No performance issues in Live run of CentOS, as opposite to, say Sabayon.
Actually, my general feeling of working in CentOS 6.0 was very positive in regards to the speed. All the programs started up reasonably quckly (you don't expect GIMP to start immediately, do you?) and responded to requests with good speed. The only exception was Screenshot tool which took few seconds to start first time, as I already mentioned. Next starts of this tool were almost snappy.

Network drive and local partitions

CentOS's wonder #4 waited for me in the network... Not in the Internet, but in local network. I tried to mount my external network drive using GNOME functionality (menu Places - Connect to server). And it worked like magic! Russian characters worked out of the box. Files started from their own location, without copying into local temporary storage, like it is in latest KDE versions.
My laptop has several systems installed, and therefore I have several partitions. Windows XP uses NTFS partition. Unfortunately, this local NTFS partition could not be mounted - no driver for NTFS partitions included, and I also could not find it in repository of CentOS. Maybe I gave wrong search request? But other partions (Ext3 and Ext4) were mounted without any issues.

Multimedia support

Sadly enough, MP3 files did not play out of the box in CentOS, because decoder is not installed. True, that is not free decoder. To continue on sad note little bit longer, this decoder is not in the list of available software. VLC is neither there. Looks like there is a solution, but not very obvious one, if you want to have proper multimedia support in CentOS.
YouTube does not play videos out of the box. I tried to install Flash Player from official Adobe site. It worked, but in the middle of installation I had strange request for authorisation which I could only pass through by closing window with cross button. Neither of other buttons worked.
Anyway, YouTube worked fine and even with sound.

Keyboard layout

Wonder #5 was found right on the desktop. I've never seen this in any other distribution...
Link to keyboard configuration is conveniently placed on the desktop of CentOS 6.0. Few clicks, and Russian and English (UK) keyboard layouts replaced default English (US) layout. This process only activated layouts themselves. It is also useful to see name or icon of current layout in the taskbar panel. In order to do this, I had to add layout inicator onto the panel separately. This indicator is available in the list of optional panel items.

General impression

I'll be honest. Before this day I looked at CentOS like on the guest from previous century. Version 5.5 had icons and general design of 20th century. Version 5.6 was better in design, but still lacked some features which we expect as "a must" nowadays.
Wonder #6. Version 6.0 changed my opinion! It looks, feels and works much better. Good speed, reliable functionality and full compatability with commercial product from "big brother". What else do you need from your OS?
Yes, there are some issues with CentOS. List of available packages could be bigger. Multimedia support is not very obvious. But all that are solvable issues.
Fact is still here. What IS in CentOS - it works really well. And you can only use your own imagination to enhance system possibilities.
There is general opinion (maybe proven) that Red Hat (hence CentOS) is server-oriented system. Yes, that is partially true. But nothing stops users from installing CentOS on their desktops and laptops. It will work! And it works for many people!
Do you want to become one of them? Then why not Buy Linux CD with CentOS or read books about CentOS?
Are you already CentOS user? Then share your experience here!

Useful links:
Review from Linuxaria: http://linuxaria.com/article/overview-of-centos-6?lang=en
Review from Prashanth: http://dasublogbyprashanth.blogspot.com/2011/08/review-centos-60.htmlList of mirrors: http://www.centos.org/modules/tinycontent/index.php?id=30


  1. Chen Xiao-Long25 July 2011 at 14:55

    You'll need to add the RPMFusion repositories in order to install the codecs and VLC (http://rpmfusion.org). CentOS is just like Fedora in that they only ship free software.

  2. @Chen Xiao-Long:
    Thanks for the link!

  3. Hi,

    We have released Open Xange Server yesterday.

    Give it a try.

    Your opinion is very important to us.


  4. CENTOS is mostly used for server applications, the ability to play MP3 files is not important at all, widely used for VOIP, Asterisk based servers that don't need or want a desktop interface, just reliability and security.

  5. @Apsantos:
    I am not sure about Server version. But I see you have desktop version too. If it is Live-DVD, will be happy to review it. Please tell me if this is Live-DVD or not.

  6. @Anonymous:
    There are still people who use CentOS on desktops. Who would refuse "reliability and security" on desktop?

  7. So far I have been very impressed with CentOS 6 and it's out of the box installations. Exciting features (for me) include PHP 5.3 and Squid 3.2

  8. @CentOS 6:
    we probably have different priorities because use Linux for different purposes. You - for development, me - for web browsing, music and other "household" activities.

  9. CentOS 6 is great, the boot up is so much faster and the packages seem to be fluid/easier to manage.

    It keeps getting better and better.

  10. Again so people know, this is really meant for a Server not desktop use.

    There is a reason it is built off an "Enterprise" release. Yes you *could* use it as a desktop but that is not what CentOS is designed for.

  11. WHY can't someone on google answer a simple damn question? WHAT is the name of the file manager used in CentOs 6? It is pissing me off I cannot find this simple answer.

    1. CentOS is based on GNOME 2 by default. This means Nautilus is your file manager in this operating system.