Taking the long view: Why I'm moving to CentOS Linux on the desktop

Taking the long view: Why I'm moving to CentOS Linux on the desktop

Summary: CentOS has long been considered a server operating system, but it is a very capable and stable platform for the desktop as well with long term support.


Fedora is community driven and its support is second to none.  I not only used Fedora for myself, but I installed it on many other computers for family and friends, with great success. 

However, over the years, a few things have come up and  recently I've started to look at switching to CentOS for these desktops instead. For those that know CentOS, it is a  proven platform mainly used in server environments. It too, has a huge community following. 

With the introduction of Gnome 3, Fedora has caused a few headaches not only for me, but for others that I support. Sure, I could have selected another desktop environment, and did move to MATE, but the huge following of Gnome 3 as well as Red Hat's plans continuing to use it has forced me to circle back around revisit Gnome 3 in Fallback Mode (and more recently, Classic Mode). 

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

But other problems have come up. With Fedora's rapid release cycle I've found myself having to upgrade the desktops every two to three years or so. And, the upgrade process has changed over the Fedora releases, so the process it not completely seamless upgrading from version to version.  

Recently, I decided to try CentOS on the desktop. Why? My first reason is its support life, which is 10 years from the initial release date.  

CentOS 6, the current version, is supported until the year 2020: this means patches will be available until then, even though I don't anticipate running CentOS 6 in the year 2020 (I'm sure I'd have moved on to CentOS 7, 8, or whatever version is out by then). 

But this allows a system's core operating system to run and be supported for well more than two years. I anticipate about five years of having an OS running on any one of the desktops I support. 

The other reason is that there are a handful of third party repositories for CentOS that have updated packages of software, of which I will get in to in a little bit. 

So for example, if I had installed a CentOS system in 2010 when it was first released, today I can upgrade the Firefox browser to the new version. If I had chosen to install Fedora in 2010, I would be stuck with an older version of Firefox unless I could find a version of it released or install it manually. 

Upgrading the RPM packages with these GNU/Linux distributions is definitely my preferred way of keeping software up to date, because it is very easy to manage and requires much less labour keeping up to date than manually installing programs. In fact, in my opinion it beats Windows software management by leaps and bounds by design.

CentOS also has other advantages as well.  It is not cutting edge, and that can be a good thing.  It still uses the 2.6.x  kernel, and its core packages are older which means that bugs have been worked out and the software should be relatively bug-free overall. 

In addition, regular releases of CentOS do offer seamless upgrades in case you do want to do a complete refresh of a system. For example, the recently released CentOS 6.5 offers LibreOffice 4 which is fairly modern.   All which can run on the CentOS core operating system as the software is kept up to date in a lot of cases.

Current packages that are not available with the core CentOS distribution can be obtained easily by installing a third party distribution. These distributions are widely used and I've found the list below is very suitable for getting a very good platform with new software versions.

There are also many additional repos, as shown on the CentOS recommended page.

All of this combined make CentOS a very stable and manageable platform for any GNU/Linux desktop system.  I've found it  to be a very good platform because it still has Gnome 2.28 which I've found is greatly easier to use and more stable than  Gnome 3.x. 

So I can provide the Gnome 2 interface yet get the newer versions of software on systems, which is the perfect recipe for most users. So far, CentOS has provided the great support of Fedora with more reliability and long term support, and it looks like I will be changing to it for my default desktop operating system.

Further reading


Topic: Linux

Chris Clay

About Chris Clay

After administering Linux and Windows for over 17 years in multiple environments, my focus of this blog is to document my adventures in both operating systems to compare the two against each other. Past and present experiences have shown me that Linux can replace Windows and succeed in a vast variety of environments. Linux has proven itself many times over in the datacentre and is more than capable for the desktop.

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  • I think this is not really a good idea

    Yes it is supported for a long time but the big q is what kind of support it has?! It doesn't even have a good repository for Mate and Cinnamon, imagine that all those great new kernel features that you are going to lose in these years! This is simply not worth it IMHO!
    If you are a guro (which seems that you are) why not give Gentoo a try?! As I have read about it you are always up to date with latest and greatest without ever needing to change your operating system, but the downside is it has a learning curve ;)
    • Did you even read the article?

      He is talking about installing this on other peoples machines and not having to worry about having to upgrade the distro for 5 years.
      Being technical and being able to maintain a gentoo system is not enough. He wants to not touch these machines for 5 years and allow the end users to run the updates themselves. That is a tall order for Gentoo.

      I would sooner recommend moving to Ubuntu or Mint after the 14.04 release which will be supported till 2019. On the other hand. I am certain that RedHat and CentOS will still be around in 2019. Canonical could fold at any time. It is still not turning a profit. If Mark Shuttlewoth ever gets tired of dropping several million a year into the company, it is gone.

      As long as he does not need to support bleeding edge hardware or need to run a new gnome 3 app. He is set.
      • yes you are right I didn't read it properly I thought he wanted to use it

        for himself Gentoo is definitely not for people who need support! Again you are right in this case I would go with a LTS release of ubuntu or mint! With an ancient kernel that Centos uses desktop users will most probably have trouble with new hardware and things like that!
    • Re: I think this is not really a good idea


      MATE and Cinnamon are fairly new environments, and integrating them in to the current version of CentOS/RHEL would probably be a fairly large task. CentOS uses Gnome 2 which MATE is based from, but if you are looking for the latest environment then CentOS is not going to cut it and I agree with you. However, keep an eye out for CentOS/RHEL 7, which will include Gnome 3 and probably the environments you suggested. This will be a huge release and I'm very much looking forward to it. And now that Red Hat is going to help the CentOS project, I suspect we will see CentOS follow even closer to RHEL's release dates.

      Thank you for the comments and feedback.
      • I won't recommend CentOS to any ORDINARY user

        I have tested during the last two monts several new distributions including Linux Mint Debian, openSUSE 13.1, Korora, CentOS 6.5 (Gnome/MATE), GhostBSD, Linux Mint 16 Cinnamon, etc... So here's my experience with CentOS 6.5:

        -you will have problems with USB dongles
        -you will have problems with multimedia, sounds, codecs, which sources to take and where
        -you will take a trip back to times when "Linux was hard to install, use and customize"
        -you will have some problems with dualbooting (grub issues)

        Then i have to criticize some of Linux fans to defend use of CentOS (or Debian) claiming "how stable" these distributions are. Stable or not but how about making those distributions much more user friendly, easier to install and easier to customize for ordinary people. Sometimes it sounds like the term "stable" means "hard, complex, annoying, difficult". And at the same time those same fans are despising Ubuntu and Mint being "boring". Why? Likely because these - and now i'm talking about LTS-releases - distributions are so easy to install and easy to use and what's even more amazing very stable indeed. After using Linux some 7 years (since 2007+ short period during 1999-2000) i must say that Linux Mint 13 (MATE and Xfce) has been so far the best distribution for home users.

        CentOS 6.5 was terrible bad experience, disappointment and trip of frustration. Even Fedora has been much more easier and user friendly (especially when following its "road map" after first installation)

        PS. Korora Cinnamon was pleasant surprise being really like a "Mint of RPM". I got to follow that one.
        • Not Faced any problem

          Well i've not faced any problem as mentioned by you.
          Its easy to install , media codec are easy to find
          and iam dual booting it with windows 7.

          no issues
    • Wrong asssumptions

      You are mistaken in 2 things (minimum).

      1. Kernel 2.6.x on RHEL/CentOS/SL (known as "EL") 6 has many things backported from latest kernels, but has more stability and speed, in most cases, from latest kernels. Reason for this is that kABI/ABI of the kernel stajes the same, so kernel module that uses kmod- is installed only once for entire life of distro version by using weak0updates mechanism. So RH kernel version and vanila kernel version are NOT comperable.
      Beside that, ElRepo repository caries 3.10 and 3.12 kernels that have compatible "hooks" for EL packages, so most of stuff in EL can work with 3.x kernels.
      EL 7 will use kernels and packages from Fedora 19/20. Important part of package versions is that most of them are "frozen" and only minor version number will be changed, so that app that works on 6.0 also works EXACTLY THE SAME as on 6.20 10 years later.

      2. EL 6.x uses Gnome 2.28. MATE is made to make continue Gnome 2, so I do not see to have a Shell to mimic Gnome 2, when we HAVE Gnome 2 already, and until 2020(2023). Cinnamon was forked to provide Gnome 2 look on Gnome 3. But Red Hat demanded Gnome 3 Classic Mode to be created, to provide EL 7 users with Gnome 2 look while Gnome 3 is bellow. This will give same/old look on every version of Gnome 3, and since Red Hat is financing it, it will exist til 2024(2027). So why bother with Cinnamon?
      In any way, if there is enough interest, users will have possibility to create Cinnamon SiG and work on rebuilding Cinnamon packages for EL.

      3. You have a notion that latest is greatest, but that is only true for entusiasts. People needing stability, or just Linux "that works" will most profit from EL (CentOS).

      I used CentOS 5.x for 4-5 years exclusevily on both Desktop PC and Laptop, and once you install it, you forget that you have a OS, it is just there and works. I now use CentOS 6.x (6.5) and it also just works. It is boring some people might say, but that is exactly why I like it, I am free from bugs and upgrades to new versions.

      Just a week ago, CentOS and Red Hat announced that Red Hat will finance expansion of CentOS project. Core members will be payed to work on CentOS full time, RH will give CEntOS some infrastructure (hardware) and will assist CentOS to open up entire build system and to expand to support several "Variants" of CentOS, like OpenStack, OpenNebula, etc. When things settle, CentOS will provide every interested maintainer to build packages in CentOS build system, and I expect Desktop/Laptop Variant will also exist, making it easier for plain users to manage it. No additional changes from Red Hat to CentOS project from those I wrote will be done. No merging, no changes whatsoever to CentOS Core as it is now.

      Here by I authorise author of the article to add what I wrote into article itself. These things need to be said also, to finally eliminate bad rep CentOS has amongst Desktop users.

      Ljubomir Ljubojevic
      • But Time Moves

        Yes, we don't always need the latest. But, sometimes you do. Sometimes you need the latest from a couple of years back. There are a considerable number of desktop applications that were not around when RHEL 6 was released that run poorly or not at all on that platform.
      • From a desktop perspective

        Sometimes (with desktop apps), we need newer versions and this is where the additional repos come in and provide that. Things like Firefox, LibreOffice, apps that have new features or just need to stay compatible, can be updated. Having a newer kernel (to me) doesn't have a lot of advantages, and in fact I've been happier running a slightly older kernel.
  • CentOS as development platform

    I agree about CenOS on many points.
    I develop for an embedded platform which has the development system (a Linux variant) made for Fedora/RH.
    Because i like Gnome 2.x and dislike (very much) Gnome 3.x, about one year ago I tried Centos 6.x and having found all the advatages described above, since then this is my preferred platform for L>inux/GNU cross development for diverse ARM-based targets, usually running in a VMWare PLayer virtual machine.
  • CentOS is RHEL

    I use CentOS in a virtual machine because it is the closest mimic of Red Hat Enterprise Linux that is installed on the servers at work. I have no complaints about Centos 6.2 and would gladly install it for non-geek friends. The rapid update cycle of Fedora and Ubuntu can be annoying.

    In my installation the package update (not same as entire OS version update) is performed by 'yum' (easier than rpm IMO) and there is even an update icon in the upper right, so it's about as simple as can be.
  • Ran CentOS Desktop, But Aging Core Took a Toll

    I ran a CentOS 6 desktop for a long time. By carefully mixing and matching repos, I had all the apps and tools I needed. (And you do need to be careful with the repos.)

    However, most if my computing time is spent reading and writing. The quality of the font display -- font rendering -- is critical. CentOS has an aging GKT2 stack -- whatever was current when Gnome 2.28 was released. Initially, I could tweak font rendering acceptably. Eventually, though, I needed to move to GTK apps that, while they would run on CentOS' GTK2 version, would not render fonts well enough for me. (I patched freetype, etc., and built and used Infinality, but they've move on from 2010, as well. )

    Other core CentOS 6 components are showing their age, too.

    The "2.6" label on the kernel is misleading because Red Hat has backported hundreds of fixes and patches from later kernels. The changes are posted on the RH site.

    I don't know if the lack of Mate packages for CentOS 6 is an issue since Mate is essentailly a recompilation of Gnome 2. Cinnamon lkely won't ever be available for CentOS 6 because it relies on GTK3.

    When CentOS 7 comes out following the RHEL 7 release -- I'm thinking September -- I'll take a good look. I believe the current Fedora Mate packagers will try to make Mate available for RHEL7/CentOS7 in EPEL.
  • Good article.

    I very much like the idea of not upgrading for 10 years. I have no experience with centos/rh but if I understand this article right I won't be bothered with new desktops or kernels. Instead I'll get updates that contain the backports of the latest software. So I can concentrate on what is important instead of the latest fads...?
    • Likes not upgrading OS for 10 years

      I agree 100%, especially if new performance enhancers & software is backported without changing the look/feel/operation of the OS.
      I used Win XP for almost 8 years and never thought about the OS, I just did my work.
      It's similar to my experience with using Ubuntu with Gnome 2.x then switching to Mint/MATE, my UI/UX stayed constant while performance and flexibility improved without ever being inconvenienced or *having* to learn a new way of doing something I'm proficient with. Sure I upgrade the OS when each LTS version "expires" every few years (even though I technically don't *have* to), but the basic interface & "plumbing" remains constant enough so it's not a hassle at all.
      Steve I.
  • CentOS and Gnome

    He has a good point. I find the newest Fedora (Heisenbug) to be cumbersome. GNOME 3 does not look and feel at all like Linux. It's driven rather by the latest features of Windows and Mac OS X. For example in GNOME 3 you can snap window to occupy a half portion of the screen just like in Windows 7 and you can expand out to see an ariel view of all your open menus which is a feature in Mac OS X. This needs to be downvoted. As soon as I upgraded to Heisenbug (I was running Fedora 16), I noticed these appalling and grotesque features. Not cool. I'll stick with CentOS 6.5 and will continue to use CentOS as long as they don't package in GNOME 3. If they do opt for GNOME 3, I'm moving to a new flavor of Linux.
    • CentOS 7 will have Gnome 3 Classic Mode

      Thankfully, in CentOS 7 we will have Gnome 3 classic mode, which I'm hoping will be very similar to Gnome 2. I've been using Classic Mode in Fedora and so far it's not bad and for now is as good as it gets for getting close to Gnome 2, but running Gnome 3. With Red Hat and CentOS backing Classic Mode, I would expect it to be good.
  • Gnome is dead

    On the long term KDE is the way to go. KDE is highly sophisticated, stable and extremly powerful. Gnome will never catch up with KDE. That race is lost for Gnome. The Gnome world is terribly fragmented now. KDE on the other hand is very homogeneous. It took me a while to get along with KDE but now I will never go back to Gnome.
    • Gnome will live on for some time

      KDE is best for newer computers that have at least a dual core CPU with 2Gb of ram. Hardware is lasting a lot longer now and this is a very compelling reason for using a Linux desktop to be able to use older hardware and at good speed too.

      In our school library we are still using 4 old single-core PCs with 1 to 2 Gb of ram. We have Lubuntu installed (a light distro) but converted it to using the Gnome fallback desktop with display effects enabled using XCompMgr. This way we can use Docky which makes it easier for students to start up programs.

      At home, I am still using two old single-core PCs for day-to-day use with the same configuration as those in the library. The beauty of using Lubuntu or Ubuntu is to have one install, configure it correctly and then make a backup image using Fsarchiver. With this image, we can restore the installation to any computer or notebook and the hardware will be automatically recognized. So, we save having to install and configure different hardware separately. There are some changes needed, however, after boot-up e.g. host name, swap drive and unique partition mounting. These take no more than 5 minutes and we're good to go.

      These single-core PCs zip along very nicely and there are no complaints from students about speed. This is not possible with KDE with its heavy use of effects. Even Gnome 3 is a drag on single-core PCs. Fallback mode is best. I will take a look at Gnome 2.x to see if greater benefits can be had without compromising compatibility.
    • Gnome is not trying to 'catch up'...

      I totally agree that that KDE is "sophisticated, stable and extremly powerful".
      However, it is a completely different DE than Gnome, so Gnome is not trying to "catch up". The Gnome folks dropped 2.x, and many users don't like the paradigm change for 3.x so the Mint folks forked Gnome 2.x into MATE and continue developing and improving it.
      It's different strokes for different folks.
      (When KDE 4.x first came out, with the plasma stuff and the "cashew", there was a backlash from KDE users almost as big as from Gnome users in the 2.x to 3.x transition, on top of 4.x's teething bugs & issues, so even dyed-in-the-wool KDE users were making comparisons like yours above. Chill.)
      If you've got the hardware to run KDE, yeah it's awesome, but for folks who either really like (or are highly proficient with and/or have muscle/brain memory trained to) a traditional Gnome 2.x style interface, or for casual users transitioning from Win XP or 7, MATE/Gnome 2.x is a painless & nearly learning-curve free DE. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, & if it works for you, why change it?
      As far as "fragmented", that really only applies (IMHO) to the Gnome 3.x world with their totally different interface and shell trying to emulate 2.x for those who don't care for 3.x.
      Comparing Gnome 2.x/MATE to KDE is like comparing apples & pomegranites;- both have their uses but they are not really competitors.
      Steve I.
  • Dictation

    Another dictation problem or Asian transcriber?

    "it has forced me to circle back around revisit Gnome 3 in Fallback Mode (and more recently, Classic Mode). "

    Either Zdnet OR it's freelance writer[s] has a trash [sic] can full of Asian transcribers or they 'offshore' the transcribing to non English speaking countries. The grammatical English is terrible in any Zdnet newsletter they publish.