Newbie Question - What Distribution?

I've decided to take the plunge and buy a Linode and move my blog off Blogger.

I'm a bit overwhelmed by the choice of distributions. As a relative newbie, which one should I pick? Ubuntu?

I'm looking for a setup of LAMP + WordPress + some custom PHP code.

I've never been root before, but I do know my way around.

18 Replies

I was exaggerating the differences a little bit for humor effect, yes. Heck, Red Hat has nothing on Protestantism.

And for what it's worth: Ubuntu (LTS), Religious Society of Friends (FGC), and orange (NDP/RIT).

"Which distribution should I use" has, over the years, inspired more lively debates and shattered more friendships and created more enemies than "Which Christian denomination should I join?". Thus, it has surpassed religion and politics to become the #1 Topic To Avoid In Polite Company.

Why, you ask?

Exhibit A:

~~![](<URL url=)http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c … es.svg.png">http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8b/ChristianityBranches.svg/659px-ChristianityBranches.svg.png" />

Exhibit B:

~~![](<URL url=)http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c … dt.svg.png">http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8c/Gldt.svg/659px-Gldt.svg.png" />

So, you should be thankful that the list of distributions has been heavily curated. :-)

… but that's not useful information. http://www.linode.com/about/ has some statistics about what others have chosen; also, take a look at http://library.linode.com/ to see what documentation is available for the various distributions. Ubuntu, Debian, and CentOS are probably the big three.

Ubuntu and Debian use the same packaging system, and indeed, Ubuntu can be viewed as a branch of Debian -- the two distributions, especially in the server space, are quite similar. However, Ubuntu has a rather unique release schedule: normal releases occur every 6 months and are supported with updates for 18 months, but every 2 years, a Long-Term Support (LTS) release occurs with 5 years of support (for servers). These tend to come out on April of even years. Ubuntu's version numbers are date-coded, e.g. 11.10 = October 2011, and the release names (oneiric) are adjectives assigned alphabetically and applied alliteratively to animals (Oneiric Ocelot).

Debian's release cycle, on the other hand, has been more of a "when it's ready" thing but it is moving towards a two-year cycle for major releases as well. Releases tend to be coming out in the spring of odd-numbered years and are supported for a year after the next major version's release: Debian 6.0 was tagged 'stable' in February of this year, which made Debian 5.0 'oldstable', and it will be supported until February of next year. Release numbers (e.g. 6.0) are in the usual major.minor form, and release names (squeeze) are derived from Toy Story. There is also a 'testing' tag which is analogous to a rolling release system.

Both Ubuntu and Debian package a wide variety of software and tend to enjoy good stability. Also, upgrades between releases tend to work pretty well.

CentOS is less of an independent distribution and more of a mirror of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, a commercial OS with its own release schedule. It's based on the RPM package management system. As you can guess, its release schedule is based on the RHEL release schedule plus a variable time delay (85 days for 5.6, 242 days for 6.0, 54 days for 5.7, etc). Currently, three major releases are supported: 4.x for maintenance updates until February 2012, and 5.x and 6.x with full releases until Q4 2011 and Q4 2014, and maintenance updates until 2014 and 2017, respectively. Despite being based on RHEL, they do maintain their own QA and security teams.

Upgrading from CentOS 5.x to 6.x is not possible without reinstalling. Also, because it is based on a commercially-supported OS, the available software tends to be heavily curated and tested by RHEL, meaning there's less of it and it tends to be older. The lag between RHEL and CentOS, and the CentOS security update process, tend to be rather worrying to me. But, if you need RHEL (e.g. for cPanel or FreePBX) but can't afford RHEL (… it's not cheap), it's a good option.

In all of these distributions, the version number of installed software will be the version that was current at release: security updates are backported and applied to it by the distribution's maintainers. This can throw off stupid security audits, but it's normal. This is part of the tradeoff that comes from having releases. (It's a good idea to subscribe to your distro's security announcement mailing list.)~~~~

While Ubuntu does work quite well for some, it doesn't work at all for others.

Of the ones that Linode has, the only three I've used are CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu. I'm one of those people who can't get Ubuntu working, so of course I'm not going to recommend it :-)

CentOS and Debian both work pretty good if you're expecting it to be stable, though they only get security updates; they don't get updated otherwise, so sometimes things are a bit out of date. You can always add third party software repositories to get newer stuff when you need it.

Even though I personally haven't used it, I've heard good things about Arch, including that they update their software more frequently.

I don't know much about the others, except that I've used openSuSE at home (not on Linode), and it didn't work very well for me, but that was just under a year ago, so I don't know if they've improved or not.

Ubuntu is most popular, so I'll go with that.

All I really want is to get LAMP and WordPress working. The other features beyond that don't matter to me.

Make sure you use the LTS release (10.04); non-LTS releases have a much shorter support lifespan.

hoopycat is right, asking which distro is the best is generally asking for trouble. Too many distros out there, too many opinions. Personally, though, I think it's good to pick out a few that have some tools added to make the switch to Linux easier. From there, encourage people who have settled in to start exploring other distros to make their own decision on what they like

Debian has a lot less breakage when upgrading the distro compared to Ubuntu (imo)

As any linux fanboy will tell you, the idea of having a bazillion distros is so you can spend lots and lots and lots and lots of time distro hopping (just be sure it's for hopping purposes only, and that you get no real work accomplished, not even a little).

So just pick one, use it for 3 weeks, then pick another one, use that for 2 weeks, then go back to the first one, but only for a few days, then pick a 3rd choice and use that for at least 5 weeks, then go back to the first one, but just for 3-4 days, then pick a 4th choice, and so on and so on.

Key rule, never (NEVER) stick with any single distro for more then 12 weeks - otherwise you'll lose your fanboy standing.

See, the true linux fanboy object is just to say you've used X amount of distros, not that you've installed a distro and it's been rock stable for Y months (that would mean you're a Nix Admin or Gray beard or Sysadmin and not a fanboy).

In other words, just pick one, no matter what the fanboys say, they're all pretty much the same (unless you have a specific application that is only supported by a certain distro - if so - pick that one).

@hoopycat:

![](http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c … es.svg.png">http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8b/ChristianityBranches.svg/659px-ChristianityBranches.svg.png" /> That picture is way too simplified. Scroll down ~~this page. It would begin to look similar to the Linux distro chart.

Back to topic, I'd recommend Ubuntu too, because most of the tutorials in the Linode Library are written for Ubuntu.~~

@vonskippy:

See, the true linux fanboy object is just to say you've used X amount of distros, not that you've installed a distro and it's been rock stable for Y months (that would mean you're a Nix Admin or Gray beard or Sysadmin and not a fanboy).

I think I'm officially a gray bearded admin :-P

@vonskippy:

In other words, just pick one, no matter what the fanboys say, they're all pretty much the same (unless you have a specific application that is only supported by a certain distro - if so - pick that one).

They all have a roughly equivalent set of software. What goes into choosing a distro is stability, whether you prefer rolling release or megafrozen (update only when needed), and (as you mentioned) if one distro has a certain app that the others don't.

No, not all distros are the same. You have:

  • Full blown distros: RHEL/CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Suse, …

  • Minimalistic distros which have no presumptions and allow you to configure the system with exactly the software you need: Archlinux, …

  • Source based distros: Gentoo

And with that it boils down to your preference. Which is what? Install and forget? Install and configure to your obsessive-compulsive desires? Surf the bleeding edge of software technology? Unorthodox or highly custom configuration and software combination? Etc….

It also boils down to package management. If you tend to build custom packages for whatever reason, then there is difference between Gentoo's portage, RPM, DEBs, etc…

When talking about religions and operative systems, if you want to find The One and Only Truth To Rule Everything, the answer is Debian.

@advocatux:

blah blah flamebait blah blah

You spelled CentOS wrong.

Yes, I'm a jerk. Plz ignore this post. kthnxbai

@Azathoth:

No, not all distros are the same. You have:

  • Full blown distros: RHEL/CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Suse, …

  • Minimalistic distros which have no presumptions and allow you to configure the system with exactly the software you need: Archlinux, …

  • Source based distros: Gentoo

It's not that clear. A minimal Debian or Ubuntu install, which Linode uses, falls into your "Minimalistic distros" list, since they start with almost nothing and let you install packages as required.

I decided to pick ubuntu (latest version).

I also installed emacs. I can't stand vi.

@fsk:

I also installed emacs. I can't stand vi.

jeez, and I thought the big flamewar in this thread was already running!

@glg:

jeez, and I thought the big flamewar in this thread was already running!
Let's cut straight to the final word:

Real men mind-meld with the disk controller and change the bits in the file with sheer force of will.

@advocatux:

When talking about religions and operative systems, if you want to find The One and Only Truth To Rule Everything, the answer is Debian.

Really???

Apparently he never heard of Ark Linux…

@fsk:

I also installed emacs. I can't stand vi.

I can't say I've used emacs, but I'm way too lazy to memorize all those keyboard commands in vi. I much prefer 'nano' editors over complex ones :-P

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