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Do you think this laptop would be ok for supporting dualboot Vista and CentOS?
Its not an exciting spec, but from what I can tell there isn't anything wrong with it. For a laptop CentOS wouldn't be my first choice, though.
Will I have any problem or disadvantages with a refurbished laptop?
Can't think of any that are specific to it being refurbished. There might be some difficulty if the laptop is in some way defective and you have to return a laptop in a very clearly different condition from the one in which you bought it; the law should be on your side, but how much that would help in negotiations with PC World...
I'm guessing that the way its being offered (on a web site) might make it difficult to pop into the shop and give it a quick with a live CD, which would normally be advised?
My choice of rpm-based distros would be between OpenSuSE and Fedora. If you are learning because you want to have experience for RH admin, then Fedora would be the best; in general though, my preference is for SuSE.
I'm not suggesting Centos is in any way bad, far from it, but its a clone of a distro intended for server usage, and how much of a problem that would be for you on a personal desktop or, more extreme still, a laptop is an open question.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if you have more succes with auto detection of wireless and that kind of thing with a consumer-focussed distro. Depends how much work you want to put into tweaking.
While I am a big fan of Centos (even for desktops now), the very nature of it means that its features lag behind Fedora. That is to say, a current Fedora will support a LOT of wireless that Centos will not for another generation. As far as learning the ropes, RHEL/Centos is based on Fedora. There is very little difference between the two (except time). RHEL/Centos 5 was Based off of Fedora Core 6. I THINK (not sure) F8 and RHEL/Cenots5 were release about the same time. There are far greater differences between RHEL/Centos and Suse than between RHEL/Centos and Fedora. So if the long term point is to prepare to run RHEL then I would stick with Fedora. Fedora only supports any one version for a year, RHEL/Centos for five years.
Pretty much you have to get new versions of the apps (to meet dependencies). The majority of the common apps will be in the new repo.
The settings and configs you want to back up. While you can get into trouble reusing the old config files (due to changes in the newer versions), they do make excellent reference material. The trap here is that about 90% of the time you can get away with reusing the old files, BUT when an old file is causing a conflict it is extremely difficult to track down.