While Microsoft Windows has, for decades, been the operating system of choice for desktop computing and office networks, Linux distributions have become the most commonly used operating systems for hosting servers.
Windows comes in a number of different versions such as Server, Home, Pro and Enterprise, with each version being appropriately named for their function. However, when considering Linux there are a great many options to choose from, known as distributions. The sheer variety of Linux versions can be very confusing for a beginner.
What is Linux?
Linux itself is a small part of what you get with a Linux distribution. With each Linux distribution, the Linux part is the operating system Kernel that acts as the interface between the software being run and the hardware on the computer. On its own, Linux is fairly useless to you and in the early days was only released as source code. Linux distributions came about as a way to make Linux easier to use by including a compiled Linux kernel with a selection of other software required to use the computer. These distributions took Linux from being an academic interest to being part of viable alternate operating systems to UNIX.
Understanding Linux Distributions
Over time, these distributions went from being a simple convenience to becoming the main way in which users obtained Linux, as well as providing a curated selection of software ready to use with the distribution. Linux distributions make use of package managers to handle the installation of software which they store in repositories. These days there are hundreds of Linux distributions, most of which are based on one of three of the oldest distributions: Slackware, Debian and Red Hat. Which leads to one of the commonly asked questions by Linux newcomers: “Why are there so many distributions?”
Once Linux distribution became an easy way to get and install Linux along with a number of useful software tools, users started customizing distributions to better suit their needs. Some distributions split when users established different goals. For example, Debian focuses on providing a stable and well-tested operating system and associated software. Ubuntu forked from Debian to maintain a Debian base, but also provides more up-to-date software with a view to providing a more secure by default easier to use an operating system.
While Debian offers a single download of its Linux distribution, Ubuntu offers different Desktop and Server downloads with packages focused towards the different roles. For example, the desktop version comes with a graphical user interface, while the server version only has a command line interface. While there are some strong differences between the core Debian distribution and the Ubuntu distribution, Ubuntu has spawned a number of distributions. The main differences are in Ubuntu’s use of various default graphical user interfaces and associated software.
Software packages aren’t the only difference between distributions. You can also find that different distributions may store configuration files in different places, and even use different formatting in configuration files for the same purpose. This is quite apparent when setting up a server running Debian versus one running CentOS. Another noticeable difference between the two distributions is that they both use different package management systems, which means that simply installing software can be somewhat different.
Linux Distributions for Hosting
When it comes to choosing a Linux distribution for hosting servers, the most commonly used ones tend to be Debian, Ubuntu and CentOS. However, any Linux distribution intended for server use will suffice and will provide the software packages you’ll likely require in the distribution’s repositories. All distributions will typically achieve the same goal, but before selecting a distribution you will want to consider the tutorials available. If you are new to using Linux then you’ll likely need to use tutorials or how-to guides to help get started. Due to the differences between distributions, guides tend to be specific. So a distribution with a wealth of helpful guides will help you.
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