I no longer have CentOS running on my netbook. It won't be back. At the moment I am not recommending CentOS for anything, not even servers. On my netbook and on desktops in general it has very little to do with the overhyped and exaggerated claims that miscommunication between the developers would lead to the death of CentOS. I have a story I'm writing forO'Reilly Broadcast about that CentOS misadventure, a combination of self-inflicted pain when the developers aired their dirty laundry in public and some in the tech press sensationalizing a story. On servers that story actually does play a significant part in my decision making. Before the CentOS fans out there get all angry at me and start with the inevitable flames let me explain my decisions.
I've decided that RHEL/CentOS just isn't for the typical desktop. The repositories are sparse compared to other distros and I would have had to compile quite a number of apps and dependencies for things I use every day. It was just plain too much work. Yes, I am aware of and tried RPMForge and EPEL and Odiecolon Repo and CentOS Extras. ELRepo proved tremendously useful for firmware and drivers. All of these repos provided useful packages. I tried using yum-priorities to keep all the repos from conflicting with one another and for a time that even seemed to work. With all of those third party repos I still was missing way too many things I use all the time.
I also abhor depending on third party repositories of variable quality. Yes, most of the packages I ended up using were quite good. Some had issues. The fact is that I just do NOT want to rely on multiple sources of packages which I may or may not truly trust. I want the distributor to provide a decent selection of software which they maintain with a decent level of quality assurance. CentOS just doesn't provide that for desktop applications. This was one of my main complaints when I reviewed Slackware 12.1. As much as Slackware fans berated me for this complaint I still don't trust that multiple repos will always play nicely together. They don't. I also do not want to have to build my own packages all the time. I write reviews and write about Linux professionally nowadays. I have to try new things all the time. CentOS is just not well suited for that.
Speaking of new things, I had to go to a third party repo and to compile a webcam app (as there is none worth having in any of the repos) just to make all of my netbook hardware work. My choice of apps was further complicated by the old libraries and tools included with CentOS. Older code makes perfect sense for a stable server environment which, after all, is what CentOS and the upstream Enterprise Linux are designed for. If I want to compile a newer desktop app which depends on newer libraries it may simply mean that the app isn't going to build.
Next comes the performance issue, or more correctly the lack of performance issue. After much tweaking and shutting off of unnecessary services I still found CentOS to be slower than any other distro on the netbook. (This also applies to my aging Toshiba laptop which has hardware fully supported by CentOS.) Even allegedly bloated distros running KDE 4 were faster than CentOS running Xfce. CentOS was and is the only distro I've tried on the netbook that was sluggish at all. Might I have found more stuff to rip out and more performance tuning to do? Sure! I probably could have made it better. The big question is this: Why bother? Was I really getting that much advantage running a business environment on my netbook? I decided the answer was no.
So, between lack of apps, multiple sources and old code CentOS was pretty well doomed on my netbook anyway. The coup de grace came with my last update. After rebooting the system would hang when the ACPI module was loaded. Sure, I could go into single user mode and troubleshoot and fix the problem. I have no doubt about that. I just decided I couldn't be bothered.
OK, so CentOS isn't for netboooks or desktops. You've undoubtedly noted that I said I'm not recommending it on servers either. None of the above really applies to servers, of course. The issue, of late, is the speed, or should I say slowness, of CentOS security patches. This is of vital concern to business and organizational users. When Mozilla released Firefox 3.0.12, a security patch which closed five vulnerabilities identified as "critical", Red Hat had an updated package the very same day. That's what a professional enterprise distro has to do. Downstream Sceintific Linux had a package ready the next day. It took CentOS over a week. This isn't the first such case, either. CentOS has been erratic at best about getting security patches out. The Firefox package was simply the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.
The net result is that I am now recommending Scientific Linux for people who need a RHEL clone for their business or organization. The story about Lance Davis, the developer that went missing for a time, while overhyped and exaggerated in terms of the impact on the future of CentOS, is relevant here. Scientific Linux is backed by Fermilab, CERN and other major labs and universities. As a result it has a level of funding and stability that an independent project like CentOS does not have. One of the reasons Red Hat does such a good job selling their Enterprise Linux offerings is the support they offer and the strength of the company behind the distro. Scientific Linux may not offer the support or charge for the subscriptions, but the organizational backing insures its future and makes it a stronger choice than CentOS. The recent news forced me to take a long, hard look at Scientific Linux and I decided it was a better choice.
So, for me, CentOS is gone. I do wish the project well. I just hope they find a way to reassure their user community that they can be stable and reliable. The recent bad press has hurt them in that regard.