(Community ENTerprise Operating System)
project has been thrust into the spotlight recently as a result of contact from Red Hat's lawyers
regarding the use of trademarks. In reality, that's something of a non-story, since Red Hat is only asking the project to comply with Red Hat's trademark guidelines
. Red Hat has enforced its trademarks before
without destroying the GPL or stopping the distribution of Red Hat derivatives.
The CentOS team makes it very clear that the trademark issue is not a major obstacle, and is no threat to the future development of CentOS. But the brief flurry of press did bring our attention to the cAos (community assembled operating systems) Foundation and its CentOS and cAos Linux distributions. This writer has run into several admins who've chosen to go with CentOS as an alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
The CentOS distribution is compiled from source packages from "a Prominent North American Enterprise Linux Vendor." CentOS-3 is built from Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 3 sources, and CentOS-2 is built from RHEL 2. The project is working on CentOS 4 as well, but it is still in beta at the moment.
Installing and using CentOS is much (almost exactly) like using RHEL. There are some cosmetic differences, the CentOS logo and name replaces Red Hat's in most places -- though Red Hat is still given due credit in copyrights and so on -- and some changes in non-free packages. For the most part, though, CentOS seems to be an acceptable drop-in replacement for RHEL.
We also tested installing binary packages compiled for RHEL 3 on CentOS 3. We didn't run into any issues with packages compiled for RHEL 3 on CentOS 3 -- so CentOS seems to be suitable for users and organizations that want to use commercial products that support RHEL 3.
Support for CentOS is offered through forums, mailing lists, IRC channels and commercial organizations. We didn't approach any of the commercial organizations, but the CentOS community seems to be very helpful and responsive. The mailing lists, in particular, are fairly active. The February archive for CentOS 3 has 318 messages already, though some of the traffic is directly tied to the trademark issue.
Updates for CentOS are available via Yum repositories, which is a suitable replacement for the Red Hat Network as far as this writer is concerned. We did a little checking to see if the packages available from CentOS were up to date. After running "yum update" on CentOS 3 to get the latest packages, we checked against the Red Hat FTP repository for updates to RHEL 3. In each instance, we found that the CentOS packages were current, or at least as current as the packages on Red Hat's site.
The cAos Foundation is also distributing cAos Linux, not based on Red Hat's sources. The cAos Linux distribution is also RPM-based, but features its own Cinch installer, and a different design philosophy than CentOS. We did not spend much time with this distribution, but it does look like an interesting project for users who are looking for a community-driven RPM distribution with a long shelf-life. (The cAos page promises a 3-5 year life cycle, which is a bit more attractive for many users than the rapid development cycle for Fedora Core.)
Red Hat may have been better off leaving the trademark issue alone, since it seems that the project has garnered some attention it might not have received otherwise. After spending some time with CentOS, this writer sees little difference between Red Hat's official offerings and the CentOS offerings that are community-supported. Official support directly from Red Hat may be necessary for some organizations, but if that's not a requirement, the CentOS distribution may be a better choice.
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