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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 09 Aug 2012

Stella takes CentOS (which takes Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and adds many (many!!) of the desktop packages you're missing; along with RPMForge/RepoForgethe EPEL repository, you're pretty much all the way there

It's nice to say that the very-very-very-long-term-support releases in the Linux world that won't cost you arms and legs -- the RHEL-source-fed CentOS and Scientific Linux -- are there if you want to run the same distribution for years and years.

But that's only true if you can stick with the relatively anemic selection of desktop packages available in the CentOS, Scientific Linux and, by extension, Red Hat repositories.

You soon hit a wall. Applications you use every day in Debian, Ubuntu and even Fedora are just not there.

For me those include the Audacity and Ardour audio editors and the OpenShot video editor (or ANY video editor, for that matter). For others -- and maybe for you -- it could mean Skype (if that's your thing, and it very well might be) or the VLC media player.

And then there's a buttload of codecs and other various (and) naughty multimedia bits that are available but often hard to find.

Where does CentOS/RHEL get this good? This useful?

It's a project called Stella, and it just pushed out its 6.3 release to coincide with the same release from CentOS and RHEL.

Here's where it gets really, really good. Stella's developer, who appears to go by the name/handle Nux, has a repository packed full of all the goodness I talk about above. Did I forget to mention that this makes the RHEL/CentOS base useful for a whole bunch more desktop users who need to do more than run web browsers and an office suite? I didn't forget. I've probably overmentioned it.

Add the RPMForge/RepoForge repository -- where you can probably get 90 percent of the stuff in Stella (and a few things that aren't there like the Geany IDE/text editor, the FileZilla FTP client and the Wine compatibilty layer for running Windows binaries in Linux) -- and you're ready to use CentOS/RHEL like a ... normal desktop user.

But kudos go to Stella for a newer Audacity (v. 2.x), plus OpenShot and Ardour, the latter two of which I've never found anywhere for RHEL/CentOS. Give me gPodder, PDF-Shuffler, KDEnlive and my new favorite image editor Fotoxx and I can see no reason why I wouldn't be entirely comfortable with this GNOME 2-era desktop. (OK,

This immediately comes to mind: I know you can add RPMFusion/RepoForge to CentOS and not have a problem, but can you do the same with Stella? That's a question I'll be trying to answer.

I can also see potential problems supplementing the older version of Thunderbird in CentOS/RHEL/Stella with the Lightning calendar and Google Contact Sync plugins, though that might be remedied by using the upstream version of The mail client direct from Mozilla, or via the EPEL repositories (where Lightning is available). This is already getting complicated, but maybe starting with Stella can make things easier.

Thanks to Distrowatch for announcing the new Stella release, and thanks to Nux for putting this together. The extra-repository situation for RHEL/CentOS/Scientific Linux has been too confusing for far too long. If Stella proves viable, it could be the answer for those who want a Red Hat-style system for the desktop without missing the dozens of critical packages that just aren't in the upstream repositories and who don't want to deal with the bleeding edge (and six-month cycle) of Fedora.

The Stella forums don't look terribly busy right now, but I can see that changing as GNOME 2 users look for something they can count on for the years ahead.

Update: As you may see in the comments below, Stella's nux-desktop repository is designed to be compatible with the EPEL (Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux) repository. That appears to be a much better place to get packages for CentOS/RHEL 6.x than RepoForge/RPMFusion due to the fact that the latter has a lot of older packages for older base-OS versions (it's heavy in 4.x and 5.x).

EPEL, in the link above, is all for 6.x, and just about everything I was "missing" above -- including gPodder, PDF Shuffler and Wine -- is available there. EPEL also has the Geany text editor, the Xfce desktop environment and the NGINX web server.

So from where I sit, any combination of EPEL and nux-desktop (i.e. with CentOS or Stella as base) should get you a very complete Linux desktop system that you can stick with for years (if that's your thing).