Enterprise Linux Log

Oct 8 2007   10:10AM GMT

“Is a cursory look at the CentOS LIVE CD worth every penny?”


First, a disclaimer: I’m citing an anonymous comment from “Tech Source from Bohol” with that blog post headline. It is not a Jack Loftus original and I would never attempt to pass off another’s snazzy Internet snark as my own.

The comment may be a bit snotty, but it serves as a good lesson for other blogs or media outlets that are trying to review Linux distros and post their results into the ether of the Internet. The review in question in this case is one for CentOS 5. Or, I should say, it is a review for the CentOS 5 LiveCD that proclaims to be a review for the enterprise release of CentOS. It’s an important distinction to make and, if you’re trying to catch a break as a Linux review site, you should probably know the difference before your fingers hit the keys to type out a headline.

First, the juicy bit, or “controversy” regarding CentOS 5 Live CD, for reference:

Conclusion: So is CentOS 5.0 worth every penny? Not really. A live CD of its size should have been a little more complete. Even the smaller-sized Zenwalk can do much better than CentOS live. If its main purpose is merely for testing or for rescuing a broken system, lots of Mini distributions can do the job just the same. CentOS 5.0 live CD edition shouldn’t have been released in the first place because it is not ready yet. For now, I wouldn’t recommend downloading it because it’s just a waste of time. But to those who are really eager to try CentOS, perhaps the DVD installer version will do just fine based on the good things I’ve heard about it in some reviews. Maybe I will download that version also, that is after I have fully recovered from my disappointment with the Live CD.

Now, back to what I said about knowing the difference. The CentOS 5 DVD is something we’ve touched upon here at SearchEnterpriseLinux.com a number of times in the past, more recently for a series of Linux support articles where CentOS was featured thanks to its update sans subscription support model (which we compared to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5). We spoke with enterprise level customers doing enterprise level things in their enterprise level data centers, and they provided us with real world examples of how this OS was helping keep their businesses running. The LiveCD, on the other hand, is a recovery tool usually found right at home on a workstation. If comparing it to the DVD seems like a venture in comparing spherically shaped orange and red types of fruit, you are not alone in your thoughts.

A Live CD definition via Wikipedia:

LiveDistro or Live CD is a generic term for an operating system distribution that is executed upon boot, without installation on a hard drive. Typically, it is stored on a bootable medium, such as a CD-ROM (Live CD), DVD (Live DVD), Floppy (Live floppy), USB flash drive (Live USB), among others. The term “live” derives from the fact that these distributions are a complete, runnable—i.e., “live”—instance of the operating system residing on the distribution medium, rather than the typical case of a collection of packages that must first be permanently installed to a hard drive on the target machine before using the OS. A LiveDistro does not alter the current operating system or files unless the user specifically requests it.

Used incorrectly, I would assume any piece of technology, no matter how masterfully designed, would yield less than stellar results (well, except maybe Mac OS x ;-P). That said, if we’re talking about CentOS as an enterprise distribution, the facts we’ve assembled here at SEL would appear to show this OS has the chops to run a business as long as the user is willing and able to independently handle support. There are handful of other OS’s out there too that we’ve covered with similar results (Debian and Ubuntu come to mind).

But as far as CentOS goes, it is “the” clone right now, says Beranger.org (who laced into Bohol’s post on CentOS, naturally):

Being the most popular of the rebuilds of RHEL, you have a very good chance to benefit enormously from their mailing lists. Also, if some blunder occurs upstream, you might find a workaround in the CentOS community even before the upstream comes with a fix!

Installing CentOS 5.0 right now has a slightly annoying downside: you’ll have to pull tons of updates right away. Note that CentOS 5.0 issued “already obsoleted” media, for they understood the binary compatibility ad litteram: they have included the exact same versions of the packages as per the upstream RHEL 5.0 install media. It’s just they released several months later, and updates were quite a lot…

CentOS also has some extra repos you might benefit of. However, they were much more consistent with version 4 than with version 5. Last but not least, Karanbir Singh does a great job with his extra packages too.

CentOS is simply a different approach to the whole Linux support puzzle. Some people pay a subscription because it fits their needs, and others use IRC and mailing lists to fill in the holes. My highly unscientific opinion says that there are more people happy with CentOS in their environments than not,so any budding reviewer should probably get in contact with a few of them before writing any articles. I know we did at SEL.com.

Of course, we mustn’t be completely negative with this post, and as I write it I realized there could be an issue out there worth looking into that stems directly from this little parlay into the world of OS reviews. Do a majority of users understand the difference? Instead of attacking the review, which gets its CDs and DVDs crossed up, could we instead ask if there’s an issue in how the two are defined? I find that, unfortunately, in cases like this, the Linux community attacks the messenger, instead of addressing the overall problem: Not everyone on the planet Earth understands, uses or even likes Linux. Instead of labeling them an idiot, or a noob or whatever, maybe some hand holding is in order. Who knows, you could ultimately be adding another member to your ranks.

Regardless, this whole exercise is a lesson in headline writing; when you post a headline that promises a review of an operating system, make sure it’s the right one!

2  Comments on this Post

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  • nixin
    If CentOS 5.0 live CD is aimed at server then why does it has compiz or desktop effects for Christ's sake?
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  • Frank
    Agree with comment #1. All of the enterprise servers I run don't even need X on them, less beryl. Perhaps they should have a posgres/jboss/tomcat/apache livecd with some petstore sample OLTP application on it. Now that would be an enterprise liveCD. Frank
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