CentOS Linux is a free and open source operating system that is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. There are many different versions of Linux – each called ‘distributions’ or ‘distros’ and each distro has its own quirks and its own flair to it. Some, such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint are designed to be as easy to use as possible, and are hoping to replace Windows and MacOS as the operating systems of choice for desktop computers. Some, such as Debian, are workhorses that are good for desktop and are also good for developers.
There are others, such as RedHat Enterprise Linux which are aimed squarely at the server market, and CentOS falls into that category.
The main difference between RedHat Enterprise Linux and CentOS is that CentOS is offered as a completely free platform with community support. Meanwhile, RedHat Enterprise Linux – while still open source, and having the same upstream code – is a premium operating system where users pay to get support from RedHat themselves. CentOS gets the updates and patches that RedHat does – and is functionally the same thing in all important respects, which makes it a great platform for people who want to learn how to use enterprise servers, without paying enterprise costs.
CentOS is a platform that is free to use, and that requires fairly minimal hardware. It is popular for low-mid range VPS servers, and it can also be used for many other platforms as well. You can even install webmin on a centOS.
CentOS is often used as a command line operating system to run PHP, Apache, MySQL or other similar stacks – it can run Nginx, PostgreSQL, Perl, and anything else that is written for linux. It can be used with a GUI and often is, but it has a small enough footprint that you could run it without a GUI and have it run on minimal hardware.
To use it as a command line OS takes some technical confidence and expertise – but the good news is that there are forums out there that can help people to learn how to use the operating system – how to use package managers and config files, and how to configure packages, install security updates and generally manage the operating system.
It is not an ideal OS for a desktop where someone wants to play games, or wants to have a friendly package manager such as the one supplied with the default setup of Ubuntu. It is, however, more user friendly than some of the other ‘tinkerer’ distributions such as Gentoo – which has been infamous for its complexity to set up.
If you are thinking of trying Linux, then it is well worth a look – especially for those who are interested in programming and the server side. Remember that Linux is free and open source – and you can configure it any way you like, and try as many distributions as you like. Just because you try one, it does not mean that you are stuck with it.