Fedora vs. openSUSE vs. CentOS: Which Distribution Should You Use? [Linux]

Danny Stieben 14-01-2012

Not too long ago I wrote a similar article Debian vs. Ubuntu vs. Linux Mint: Which Distribution Should You Use? Most Linux users install a Debian-based distro. But which should you choose: Debian, Ubuntu, or Linux Mint? Read More about the top three distributions of the Debian side in the Linux family (Debian, Ubuntu, and Linux Mint), but as a true Linux geek I would never want to forget the entire other side of the Linux family, probably best known as the “RPM family”.


All of these Linux distributions The Best Ubuntu Linux Alternatives and Why You Should Switch Just because Ubuntu is popular doesn't mean it's the right Linux operating system for you. Could a different flavor of Linux be a better fit? Read More use .rpm files as installable packages rather than the .deb files which belong to the Debian family. So, let’s get started!


linux distributions
Fedora can be seen in many respects as the big mother of the RPM family, just as Debian is the big mother of the Debian family. This is in part because Fedora is made from scratch and isn’t derived from another distribution, and a good number of distributions are based off Fedora (although not nearly as many that are based off of Debian). Fedora is almost entirely controlled by the community, sponsored and funded by Red Hat. Through personal experience, Fedora is probably one of the easiest distributions to join and get involved in.

Fedora is highly focused on providing only free software. This applies to literally everything. If some software or any piece of it doesn’t have the right free license, either the software is completely removed from the repositories or the violating piece is removed.

For example, MP3 and similar codecs are nowhere to be found in Fedora’s official repositories, so out of the box you can only play Ogg files. With the help of an additional repository, however, you can get those restricted codecs. Some people find this a pain to get a “working” system, but others appreciate the work Fedora puts towards free software and accepts that an additional repository is needed as a temporary workaround until the world is more accepting of open standards.

Fedora is made to be all-purpose and can be used perfectly on any system, but Fedora is better known for testing enterprise environments. Fedora is also highly cutting edge compared to other distributions that run on a regular release schedule, and the community prides itself on that. Despite Fedora being a cutting edge distribution, it is still surprisingly stable.


For more, see our comparison of Fedora and Ubuntu Fedora vs. Ubuntu: Linux Distros Compared If you're looking for the best Linux has to offer, you have a choice of two. But between Fedora and Ubuntu, which is best? Read More .


compare linux distributions
Enough about Fedora, next we have openSUSE openSUSE 11.2 - A Linux System Perfect For New Users and Pros Alike Read More . If people don’t think about Fedora when they think of an RPM distribution, then they’ll more than likely think about openSUSE. This green distribution isn’t nearly as cutting edge and has longer development and release cycles. Therefore it is arguably among the most stable RPM distributions available, with a decent array of available software.

openSUSE is known for making an important change compared to other Linux distributions by using the KDE desktop as its default desktop environment rather than GNOME. openSUSE also includes a lot of free software, but they do not have a powerful focus on it as Fedora does. Note that although both Fedora and openSUSE use .rpm files for packages, if you find a package online meant for Fedora, it won’t necessarily work in openSUSE, and vice versa.


linux distributions
Last but not least, we have CentOS. CentOS is short for Community Enterprise OS. This distribution is actually made from Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is a distribution that can only be bought via a support package. CentOS allows people to use RHEL without having to pay for the support package and with CentOS branding instead of RHEL branding.


CentOS is therefore binary compatible with RHEL out of the box, so any packages made for RHEL will work in CentOS. As the name suggests, CentOS is an enterprise distribution, and although RHEL is based off of Fedora, it’s package selection is much reduced to “enterprise” software. Therefore, lots of desktop tools and games that regular desktop users might be accustomed to won’t be available. On the good side, which Fedora’s release cycle only lasts for 13 months, CentOS releases have support for at least 7 years. So, CentOS is highly advisable for servers.

We’ve compared CentOS and Ubuntu for use on a web server CentOS vs. Ubuntu: The Best Web Hosting Server OS Looking for a Linux server operating system? Two top options are CentOS and Ubuntu, but which one is best? Read More , if you’re curious.


The world of distributions in the RPM family is quite interesting to explore, especially with so many distributions having a leg in enterprise affairs. Whether that means that the distributions are complicated or that they’re more reliable than “regular” distributions, that is up to you. Either way, if you choose to go the RPM way rather than the Debian way, hopefully this article will help you figure out what each distro is all about.

What information did I miss out on? Which one do you like the most and why? Let us know in the comments!


Related topics: Fedora, Linux Distro, openSUSE.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. harsh
    September 27, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Of these distros, which is most easy to install, use, secure, stable? Does fedora crash frequently? I prefer KDE or cinnamon which are in fedora but may not in opensuse. Are Fedora versions LTS versions? Is it possible to install third party apps through ppa or software centre?
    Your article ends on ambiguous point. No clarity on distro selection.

  2. Lem
    August 23, 2018 at 12:44 am

    Whist the comparison information was quite useful, that is possibly the least conclusive conclusion I have ever read!

  3. Kath
    August 18, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Wow! What an awesome summary! This is the best source for comparing the three OS that I have found, and it really is enlightening. Keep the great posts coming :-)

  4. Stephen Reed
    March 3, 2012 at 2:20 am

    Okay, I don't know why my post came up as contact...

    • Tina
      March 3, 2012 at 9:50 pm

      You didn't fill in the name field, so the comment form automatically copied everything before the @ of your email address as your name.

      • I'm stupid :)
        June 12, 2018 at 12:45 pm


  5. Contact
    March 3, 2012 at 2:19 am

    I'm writing this response from openSUSE. Until now I've used Ubuntu, however, today I've been trying other distributions, from both the RPM and Debian family.

    I've tried Linux Mint, Fedora, Mandriva (Mandrake's new name), and now openSUSE.

    Throughout trying the first few, I concluded that I prefer Gnome to KDE, mostly because it feels 'fresh' and less like a windows copycat. Partially because it feels like Ubuntu, which makes it easy to use since I've tried that (Unity, Ubuntu's desktop, is a modified Gnome).

    So I downloaded the Gnome version of openSUSE. It seems very similar, at least at first glance, to Fedora, however, somehow it seems more intuitive and responsive. I don't know why.

    I'm going to give Fedora another shot before I decide on my primary RPM OS (that's the fun of Linux, I have 5 startup disks, 3 of them CDs and 2USBs and I can switch at a whim for free), for two reasons, one, I want to make sure my first impressions of liking openSUSE are correct, and two, I like the name 'Fedora' better, and I think it will be more appealing when I try to get my friends to switch to Linux.

  6. Anonymous
    February 13, 2012 at 7:32 am

    here is another useful article about Fedora vs. openSUSE  

    • Aibek
      February 14, 2012 at 6:16 am

      thanks for share

  7. Danny Stieben
    January 23, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Thanks for reminding us about this distro, Justin!

  8. ItBms Biz
    January 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Danny,
    Your article is well done, but two things I would like to bring up. There is a wonderful alternative to Fedora and Centos called Scientific Linux.  This is a great alternative in that it includes codecs and applications that are not in other RedHat derivatives.

    The other point is the incorrect use of  the word off  as  ..a good number of distributions are based off Fedora.  We derive something "from" , and not "off" or "off of".   Substitute "This comes from that" or a similar phrase when in doubt about choosing the correct word to use.
    I live and work with 3 languages.  In English we sometimes say "This is based on that", but in French and I believe in Spanish, we can stand on the floor, sit on a chair, but we "derive from" or we often use "about". 

    When there is a use of a word incorrectly, we concentrate on the error, and not on the message.

    I believe you are destined to become a great software engineer or a journalist.    

    • Danny Stieben
      January 23, 2012 at 6:10 am

      Thank you for the tip about Scientific Linux! I actually haven't looked into it all that much, but I'll need to do that in the near future!

      Also thanks for pointing out that mistake. Your explanation makes a lot of sense. :) I work in English, German, and a little bit of Spanish, but sometimes I seem to play by ear a little too much.

      I do plan on becoming a software engineer after studying computer science in college, but who knows. Maybe this kind of journalism can continue for me as well. Believe it or not, it's a pretty unexplored career possibility for me as of yet.

  9. Alexister
    January 16, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Does an distribution exist that requires high demand specs? Such as minimum of HDD 25GB and recommended of 3 GB memory?

    I've heard that most of the distribution is more suitable for older machines and current or future machines are less common for running these distributions.

    • Josh Fox
      January 16, 2012 at 10:32 am

      I've never heard of any Linux distro that has such high requirements, but neither does Windows or Mac OS X. Most distros are compatible with older hardware. That's a question of driver support. However, most mainstream distros will also work on new hardware as well. Again, it depends on the driver support. The newer the hardware, the more likely it is to depend on the hardware manufacturers. NVidia and AMD keep most of their drivers available for Linux now, so video generally isn't a problem. Nearly anything made by Intel will usually work out of the box. Wireless can sometimes be a problem depending on the chipset. In many cases, you can just use the Windows driver with NDIS Wrapper to get unsupported wireless cards to work. This isn't too much of a problem with most wireless cards, but some will need to use the Windows driver.

      There aren't any that have high demands, but that doesn't mean you can't use it on high-end computers. If you use a light-weight distro on a super powered gaming computer, you get to use more of the hardware capabilities since the OS isn't hogging all the resources.

      • Danny Stieben
        January 23, 2012 at 6:03 am

        Pure speed FTW :)

    • Justin Malcolm
      January 19, 2012 at 10:08 am

      No Linux distribution will REQUIRE such beefy hardware. Most of them will take advantage of it though. Linux is used a lot in enterprise settings so is very ready for monster machines.

      For example, according to Wikipedia, SGI Altix UV systems run either SuSE Linux Enterprise Server or Red Hat
      Enterprise Linux, and scale from 32 to 2,048 cores with support for up
      to 16 Terabytes (TB) of shared memory in a single system image. So, I think that either SUSE or RHEL would find your 25GB and 3GB quaint and comfortable.

      If you want a desktop system you may find that a distribution like Ubuntu (not RPM based) might support your video cards a little better.

  10. Harry
    January 15, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    openSUSE has more graphical tools, that make it more user-friendly, including YaST. It also comes with gnome desktop... I've never tried CentOS, but if I had to choose an .rpm based distro, I would go with openSUSE

    • Justin Malcolm
      January 19, 2012 at 9:58 am

      CentOS, like Scientific Linux, is really just RHEL with all the trademarks removed. It is an excellent distribution but really only suitable if you are in the market for an enterprise operating system. The package selection is limited and dated. I have always found the hardware support (sans video cards) and performance to be excellent though and of course you get many years of support without having to move to a new version of the OS. The target audience for CentOS is really the server room.

      • David
        January 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

        CentOS is very good outside of the server room also. I recommend it as a desktop replacement for Fedora or SUSE because you don't have to keep installing the 'next' version. Once you have gained experience in Linux, you will be able to overcome all of CentOS' perceived shortcomings. Use the software repositories to get extra goodies, and learn how to compile source code for the rest.

        • Danny Stieben
          January 23, 2012 at 6:01 am

          Don't forget enterprise workstations. :) But yes, ~7 years of support is amazing, even if the software will be quite dated by then. Knowing myself, I'll probably have to reinstall every year or so with all the crap I put on my systems. :)

        • Adam Pierson
          December 16, 2016 at 9:52 am

          I started with Fedora way back around 2003/4. After using Fedora faithfully for 3 years, with mixed results until they really started to go "bleeding edge" and the GUI began to resemble the interface for a my Sony television and became horribly unstable. It probably isn't that bad now. But since then, I've moved on from Fedora to Scientific Linux (5 and 6) then finally to Centos 6. Aside from a couple of additional sticks of memory and replaced hard drivers, I had been running essentially the same hardware since 2003. I've recently replace the hardware with something more modern. I still have my original hardware to test out new installs, before applying it to my primary desktop at work. As far as a workstation goes, it is far much better a workstation than my company issued laptop in managing other Linux servers.

    • Danny Stieben
      January 23, 2012 at 6:00 am

      Fedora/CentOS/RHEL also offer plenty of graphical configuration tools. I can't argue which is better, but I've always preferred the ones in Fedora over openSUSE. Just my taste.

  11. Bogdan
    January 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Arch Linux!

    • Anonymous
      January 17, 2012 at 11:22 pm

      Em, its about RPM based distros.... Which Arch is not.

      • Bogdan
        January 18, 2012 at 5:11 am

        Sorry, didn't notice that.

        • Danny Stieben
          January 23, 2012 at 5:58 am

          No worries :) Arch is still great. It just doesn't belong in the DEB or RPM families.

  12. Josh Fox
    January 15, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Actually, Fedora isn't the mother of the RPM family. Red Hat Linux (not RHEL), would be. It was started in 1995. In 2003, RH wanted to focus on enterprise environments because that's where the money was and became RHEL. Fedora was/is the open source "testing ground" that was also made freely available to the public to keep RH home enthusiasts happy.

    Other than that, good article. I've always been partial to the idea of OpenSUSE compared to other RPM-based distributions because of their implementation of KDE. Since it's their default environment, they've spent more time and effort on making it functional and reliable compared to other KDE-based distros, even compared to Debian and Kubuntu.

    • Gamaware
      January 16, 2012 at 3:04 am

      And it would be important to add that OpenSUSE (and its support packaged counterpart SLED just as RHEL) were Slackware based. Also i'm not sure about this, correct me if I'm wrong but the SUSE Family don't use yum just as Debian Family uses aptitude (or apt) but it uses zypper instead....

      Anyway, great post, great comments...

      • Josh Fox
        January 16, 2012 at 11:04 am

        You're right, from early 1994 until the last release in 1995, Suse was based on Slackware. The Suse family does use ZYpp like Debian uses Apt/Aptitude.

        Slackware wasn't the first Linux distro, but it's the oldest that's still actively being developed today. Slackware started in 1993 and it's package system makes it an ideal starting point for people wanting to create their own distro. All software that is used in Slackware has always been to default settings with practically no changes made from what the original developers created and released.

        • Danny Stieben
          January 23, 2012 at 5:53 am

          Slackware is still older than Debian? I know Debian began in 1993 as well. Interesting...

    • Luya Tshimbalanga
      January 18, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Red Hat Linux has become Fedora because the first release of the latter is essentially Red Hat Linux 10.

    • Ksovi
      January 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm

      opensuse doesn't really put much effort into kde, i don't quite understand where so many people get this idea from. they just created a desktop theme, a wallpaper and branded libreoffice and the bootsplash. 
      kde works best with arch linux, frugalware, slackware, salix or freebsd, because of the simplicity. so really, opensuse's effort in kde is close to zero.

      • Josh Fox
        January 19, 2012 at 1:24 am

        If you really think SUSE doesn't do anything for KDE, maybe you should check again...

        (If Wikipedia is still in its blackout, either wait until it's over or press ESC before the blackout screen appears.)

      • Danny Stieben
        January 23, 2012 at 5:55 am

        Considering KDE is the default desktop environment in openSUSE (although users can choose GNOME from the DVD installer), I'd assume that openSUSE gives KDE some decent love.

    • Justin Malcolm
      January 19, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Red Hat Linux existed from 1994 to 2003--up until Red Hat Linux 9. However, I think it is fair to say that Fedora is the logical successor to the original Red Hat Linux.

      Initially Red Hat only offered one version (Red Hat Linux). It was released too frequently for the stability loving enterprise crowd but not often enough for those wanting to keep up with the then rapidly evolving Open Source ecosystem. It was also criticized for it's lack of community involvement and unilateral package choices (such as standardizing on unreleased versions of GCC).

      In 2002, Red Hat released the first version of RHEL (Advanced Server) which was based off of Red Hat Linux but promised more conservative package selection and a longer support cycle. Very shortly afterwards, Red Hat announced that they were discontinuing Red Hat Linux and introducing Fedora Core. To address the criticisms of Red Hat Linux, Fedora Core would be a community supported distribution that would release 2-3 per year. Technologies proved in Fedora Core would become the basis for later versions of RHEL.

      The first version of RHEL was based off Red Hat Linux. After that, RHEL was based off Fedora. Fedora Core 1 was simply released instead of Red Hat Linux 10. From my perspective, Fedora is simply the evolution of the original Red Hat Linux.

      • Josh Fox
        January 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm

        Yes... yes it is.

        I was a Red Hat user when all of this happened. That was also the time when I switched to Slackware.

      • Danny Stieben
        January 23, 2012 at 5:58 am

        That's how I see it.

        Though if Fedora is supposed to keep enthusiasts happy with frequent releases, I wonder why Ubuntu is doing the same for "mainstream" users. Seems like Ubuntu could cut down from 2 releases per year to one and gain some stability/speed.

    • Danny Stieben
      January 23, 2012 at 5:52 am

      Alright, maybe not the birth mother, but acting mother. :P Any modifications to RPM get sent to Fedora before any other distribution.