A brief history of Red Hat, Fedora and CentOS


English: Red Hat 5.0 CDROM's Français : CDROM ...
English: Red Hat 5.0 CDROM’s Français : CDROM de Red Hat 5.0 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Linux ecosystem can be confusing because of the shear amount of choice available. I’ve always been a Red Hat guy and have spent a significant amount of my life staring at it’s installer. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used just about every other distribution out there as well as create my own one. This article just clarifies where Red Hat came from and introduces Fedora & CentOS.


What is Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and a mere two years after a peculiar new Operating System known as ‘Linux‘ was born – two guys Bob and Marc created a company called Red Hat. They pieced together open-source software, built it into one neat installation package and released one of the first Linux distributions Red Hat Linux 1.0 in 1994. Fast-forward to 2004 and Red Hat has become a formidable playing in the Linux ecosystem, but something was about to change.

Red Hat had been selling training, certification and support services around its Red Hat Linux distribution almost from inception. However there were conflicting needs, the Linux enthusiasts wanted Red Hat Linux to keep up to date on the bleeding-edge of Linux development. At the same time medium/large enterprises who were paying Red Hat for support services wanted a rock-solid distribution to run on thousands of servers.

Ultimately something had to give, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) was born to address the needs of enterprise customers. With strong guarantees on stability, certified hardware configurations from popular vendors like HP and Dell and longer maintenance/support lifecycles – it quickly became a hit with enterprise customers and t0-date is one of the most successful examples of the professional open-source business model.


So what happened to the Linux enthusiasts / geeks?

I’m glad you asked, Red Hat Linux was hugely successful in the enthusiast/geek-space. So much so that it new Linux distributions (Mandrake Linux) were based on it and also became popular. At its heart Red Hat needed to focus on supporting its paying enterprise customers, at the same time it didn’t want to abandon the enthusiast/geek community. To address these needs Red Hat catalysed a brand new Fedora Linux distribution for the community, which would be governed by the open-source community itself. Even today Red Hat staff are still significant contributors in fostering and developing Fedora.

Since then Fedora has been leading the way, showcasing the latest and greatest open-source has to offer – it really is the bleeding-edge of Linux development.


Ok, but want an enterprise-grade Linux without the support price tag?

Not to worry, I’ve been burned by installing flakey Fedora releases on servers only to have to reinstall them or replace Fedora entirely. Thankfully, all Linux distributions are bound by the licenses of the open-source software they distribute i.e. all the source code packages, patches etc. must remain open-source. Sure they’re not obliged to give you shiny packaged binaries of the software, but you can get the source and build it yourself. This is one of the biggest benefits of the open-source movement.

Around the same time that RHEL was conceived a free Linux distribution based on it’s source-code was also born called CentOS. Because CentOS is almost entirely based on RHEL source code, and the fact that it is kept in-sync with the versions, updates and release cycles of RHEL – the two are highly compatible. You can take a package build for CentOS and install it on RHEL without any dependency clashes, better yet some packages that aren’t available to RHEL can be installed from its CentOS cousin.


So what are you saying?

It’s quite simple;

  • If you are a medium/large enterprise and need a rock-solid Linux distribution with support – buy Red Hat Enterprise Linux
  • If you want the same stability guarantees as RHEL but cant afford the price tag – you can’t go wrong with CentOS
  • Last but not least, if you want Linux on a Desktop, Netbook, Tablet etc. with all the latest shiny features – use Fedora it’s awesome



3 responses to “A brief history of Red Hat, Fedora and CentOS”

  1. […] At the weekend I got into a discussion with Andy Stanford-Clark and Richard Appleby on Twitter troubleshooting basic application installation in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (like Pidgin). Not finding a solution later began to plague me, I grabbed a copy of RHEL and installed it on a Virtual Machine to solve the problem. If you’re interested in the history of the Red Hat-based distributions, please see my other article. […]

  2. was centos called by a different name at the beginning ?

  3. […] In 1993, a startup called Red Hat was founded by Bob Young and Marc Ewing. The following year, they combined various open source programs into one of the very first distributions, Red Hat Linux 1.0. Red Hat continued to evolve over the next 10 years, when, in 2004, Fedora and CentOS arrived – as detailed by Tumra CTO Michael Cutler. […]

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