CentOS 5.6: A Free Powerhouse for Web Servers

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Linux distribution releases have been coming fast and furious this spring, bringing fans of the free and open source operating system more choices and more capabilities than ever before.

The next version of Canonical's wildly popular Ubuntu, dubbed "Natty Narwhal," may not be due until the end of this month, but in the meantime we've seen numerous other exciting releases come out from several of the other Linux distributions.

Just last week I looked at Puppy Linux 5.2.5. Not long before that it was OpenSUSE 11.4. The latest to be unwrapped is CentOS 5.6, and it offers several compelling reasons for enterprise users to check it out.

A Leader on Linux Servers

CentOS is currently the 10th most popular Linux distribution, according to DistroWatch, and it's particularly attractive as an option for Web servers. Last summer, in fact, it was named the most popular Linux distribution in that area, with almost 30 percent of the Linux server market.

There's good reason for that popularity. Based on Red Hat's paid Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) offering, CentOS is fully compatible with RHEL and is built in full compliance with Red Hat's distribution requirements. It also targets a similar base of enterprise users.

The main difference is that CentOS is free. Users don't pay for or get their support from Red Hat--rather, they tap the community or one of the many consultancies out there offering support for a price, if they so choose.

Most CentOS users, however, are organizations that don't need a lot of outside help to use Linux successfully.

Full Support for Ext4

This latest version of CentOS, which was released on Friday, updates the distribution to reflect what's in RHEL 5.6, which was rolled out in January. Available for i386 and x86_64 architectures, the software includes packages for both server and client versions, and all upstream repositories have been combined into one.

Perhaps the biggest change in this new version is that the Ext4 file system is now incorporated as a fully supported standard, just as it is in RHEL 5.6. Other improvements include updates to Bind, PHP and Python, to name just a few; a full list can be found in the release notes for the distribution. The software's release announcement, meanwhile, provides details on how to get it.

Linux is widely recognized as a powerhouse on servers, thanks in large part to its superior stability and security, among other advantages. If your business isn't too reliant on paid support, CentOS could be a good option for you.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk .

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