Tuesday, November 17, 2020

On Laptops: Thoughts On Using CentOS, Ubuntu LTS, and Fedora

I recently participated in a discussion in a CentOS group I belong to about the suitability of CentOS for ordinary laptops. These were my thoughts, mostly taken from various points in the discussion and edited into a coherent whole. Is CentOS really good for laptops? Like so many things it depends on what you intend to do and what software you're going to use.

I use CentOS 8 on several laptops and it mostly works well. It may be missing some drivers you might need. If so,
ELRepo is a good source for those. You definitely won't find the number of apps you do in Ubuntu's repositories and will need to go with third party repos. The best of them is EPEL, maintained by the Fedora project. You can leave both ELRepo and EPEL enabled to get updates as needed probably 99.8% of the time. The rare conflict can be avoided by setting repo priorities in dnf to insure official repos have precedence.

If you need to go to third party repos beyond that pull packages manually. Some repos conflict with each other or, on rare occasions, with CentOS packages. If you can stick with EPEL you avoid that.

One thing Ubuntu does that CentOS does not do is automatically download and install proprietary packages required by some hardware. For example, I use an Epson all in one printer/scanner/copier. I had to get drivers and apps directly from Epson's website and install them manually. The good news is that Epson provides rpms for Red Hat Enterprise Linux that work perfectly well with CentOS.

In my opinion CentOS is more difficult to setup and configure than Ubuntu on a typical laptop and to the find and install all the apps you want. However, if you do that work it's rock stable and reliable. It's also every bit as easy to keep up to date and secure as you will get notifications when updates and patches are available and can install them with a click.

I never recommend Fedora. I don't like being forced to upgrade the OS as a whole frequently. For me laptops are for getting things done, not tinkering. I've also had too many problems with packages being updated without the requisite dependencies causing breakage in Fedora. I recommend either CentOS or Ubuntu LTS for those reasons.

I haven't found any reasonably modern hardware on which I couldn't make CentOS work. The question is how much work does it take and how difficult is the process. That varies widely. One caveat: I've been working with Linux professionally since 1995. What's easy for me may not be easy for someone who has limited experience. Of course, for them, working through issues may be a great learning experience.

I have yet to have a clean install of CentOS on a laptop that requires no further action, including laptops by ASUS, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba. That may be because of hardware or because of how I use my laptops. Usage patterns make a huge difference. In general, for most people, Ubuntu LTS is going to be easier to install, configure, and add software to than CentOS. Once installed both are stable, reliable, and reasonably easy to use. Both work well.