But before we explore that topic, let’s rewind for a minute to make sure we’re clear on what Linux distributions are.
What’s a Linux distribution?
To understand the answer to that question, you first have to know that Linux is not an operating system. It’s a kernel used to create various operating systems, known as Linux distributions, or distros. In other words, Linux is an easy-to-use building block for a whole family of operating systems.
There are dozens—if not hundreds—of Linux-based operating systems out there. Some were designed to support specific equipment, while others emphasize features like stability or security. Similarly, certain distributions are suitable for general desktop use only, while others were built for comprehensive enterprise environments.
How to choose the right Linux distribution?
When deciding which Linux distro is right for your business, ask yourself what you’ll be using it for. For example, if you want it to act as a firewall, you need a network-oriented distro. Or if you need it for a server supporting a database like SAP HANA, you’ll need to find out what SAP supports.
If you’re having a hard time narrowing down your selection, don’t panic. Linux-based operating systems come with some reassuring advantages that can help ease your stress.
- Cost: The vast majority of Linux distributions can be downloaded for free, burned onto disk and installed on as many machines as you like. With no licenses to purchase, you don’t have to worry about burning through your budget.
- Testing: Most distros can be tested before you install them. This means you can try several without investing time on the installation process or using up available disc space.
- Comparison: You’re free to install different distributions at the same time on virtual machines. With different options running simultaneously, it’s easier to compare their capabilities, interfaces, etc.
Here’s a quick look at some of the most commonly used Linux distributions.
Debian’s defining feature is that it’s extremely stable, which makes it a popular choice among system administrators. Developed mainly by volunteers, Debian can be installed for free—for the most part, at least—though some of the finer points involve a cost and can be trickier to install. For that reason, Debian is best for experienced users.
As the most popular of all Debian derivatives, Ubuntu is a universal operating system that’s easy to install. Since user-friendliness is its key attribute, Ubuntu comes with simple system configuration graphics and supports a broad range of applications, including proprietary ones like Skype and Spotify. This distribution has a very active user community, and Canadian businesses will be glad to know that its documents are available in French too.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a paid platform and, as the name suggests, it’s designed primarily for enterprise systems. It’s known for being very stable—with 99.999% uptime—and comes with first-class technical support. Maintenance contracts also give you access to new versions of the distribution.
CentOS is a robust ecosystem made for servers, but it’s also good for home computers as it offers a complete desktop environment. It’s based entirely on Red Hat sources and is therefore fully compatible with other Red Hat packages. 10 years of support is available for every version, which is good news if you want to avoid frequent updates.
OpenSUSE Leap is a highly stable and flexible distribution that uses source from SUSE Linux Enterprise. It casts a wide net, appealing to sysadmins, developers and desktop users with a mix of easy-to-configure tools and more technical solutions.
Arch Linux offers a minimalist base system that can be customized. Many of its software components are free, but not all. This distribution mainly attracts experienced Linux enthusiasts looking for a flexible option that they can tailor to their needs. There are many other distributions based on Arch Linux, which is a testament to its overall quality.
Need help choosing a Linux distribution?
If you’re having a hard time choosing a Linux distribution for your business or need support to get it set up, please feel free to ask us for assistance. R2i’s team of experts would be happy to tell you more.