Comparing Linux distros

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Janina
17-12-2021
Technical

When you’re setting up a new VPS (virtual private server), we let you choose from a range of operating systems. Each one is a distribution (or “distro”) of Linux. If you need help making a selection, read on.

Linux distros can seem very similar to one another. Most similarities come from one distro being derived from another (Ubuntu, for example, stemmed from Debian). Another commonality is that all distros use the same secure kernel and module system that every Linux operating system is made from. So all the options that we offer provide the security and stability needed to run web services without too much trouble.

There are countless Linux distros out there with features and libraries shared between them in different ways. But at MyHost we offer versions of three stable, secure and popular distros: CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu. When you place your order for a new VPS, you select your distro from a list.

Each has its own pros and cons that must be researched thoroughly. Let’s take a closer look at which distro features to compare.

Key points to consider about Linux distros

But before delving into the specific distros, let’s point out some qualities you might consider:

Stability. A stable OS maintains long-term performance without throwing errors or crashing. While of course regular updates and patches are necessary, an OS must be stable enough to prevent these changes from causing problems, such as compatibility issues.

Long-term support (LTS). Having LTS means having security, maintenance and, often, feature updates for a long time — about two to five years compared to short-term releases that take only months of support.

Compatibility with required software. A distro can boast a lot of features but if it doesn’t work with the software you need, then it’s mostly useless. This makes compatibility a primary criteria. So check what OS is required or recommended by your software. One big example here is cPanel, which is supported by CentOS but not Ubuntu (yet) or Debian.

Security. In general the leading Linux distros are seen as more secure than Windows as they can offer high levels of privacy and security without including any third party solutions. This reduces exposure of your system and, thus less chances for hacking and various other attacks. In terms of distros, your choice will depend on your level of comfort with their security measures.

Community. It's beneficial to stick with popular players with a large community of users and developers. That way there’ll be extensive help and documentation available. It also means that whatever issues you may come up against, you’re almost certainly not the first. This saves you from having to look far and wide when you need to learn something new. A simple Google search can lead you to people with suggestions for solving your technical issues.

Learning curve. For the majority of cases or projects, the distros are interchangeable. So the distro choice often boils down to what OS you or your system administrator is used to, or is keenest to learn about.

Now that you know what to look for when choosing a Linux distro, we can start differentiating the options that you can run on MyHost VPS: Ubuntu, Debian and CentOS.

Ubuntu

The most widely used Linux distro today, Ubuntu is specifically designed for beginners. However, its popularity cuts across even intermediate users and professionals who don’t want to go through a steep learning curve.

The distro, which is based on Debian, is also popular for building cloud computing platforms.

Another benefit with Ubuntu is its large community so if you have any questions or concerns, you’ll likely find an answer online.

On security, Ubuntu provides a pre-installed AppArmor, which makes security a default at the outset. Debian, on the other hand, does not offer any pre-installed security system but relies on updates which will be up to users to install.

Ubuntu is released every six months with free support available for nine months for every release while LTS comes out every two years.

LTS 20.04 includes experimental support for cPanel, which is a major development over previous releases. Although this support isn’t production-ready yet, it’s big news, as we’ll explain soon.

Ubuntu: Top Benefits

  • Ease-of-use ✓
  • LTS ✓
  • Large community ✓
  • Security by default ✓
  • Emerging support for cPanel

CentOS

Right now, CentOS presents a clear trade-off: You get cPanel support today, but no long-term future. CentOS will reach its end of life in 2024.

CentOS, which stands for "community enterprise OS," is a rebranded replica of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), which is the most-used enterprise Linux distribution today.

If you want to use RHEL Linux without paying a subscription fee for additional support, CentOS is for you. It uses all source codes of RHEL without the branding, technical support and price.

The selling point of CentOS is its security support, stability and enterprise focus. And if you want a distro that integrates smoothly with cPanel right now, then CentOS is your best option, at least until 2024.

One important thing you need to know about CentOS, however, is that its days are numbered. Active development will conclude by the end of 2021, which means there will no longer be any updates to CentOS features. But support will remain for version 7 through to mid-2024, This leaves some time for transition.

While cPanel has announced that they will support Ubuntu in the future, this move remains experimental.

Given this circumstance and pending more testing and clarity, we cannot yet recommend using the upcoming CentOS Stream in various environments.

Read more: What to do as CentOS’ end draws near

Debian

Debian is developed and managed by the largest volunteer-based Linux community, which explains why it has the biggest collection of software packages at about 59,000. This distro is the base of a lot of popular distros today like Ubuntu (above).

If you want the golden standard for stability, Debian is the way to go. Its versions come from several years back, allowing more time for bug and environment testing before it releases a new version.

Debian can also run on more varied infrastructure. You can run it on 32 and 64-bit Intel computers, unlike with Ubuntu which is only available on 64-bitx86 and ARM platforms.

If you also want to have greater control in customising your Linux environment and if your expertise can handle an enterprise-level OS, then Debian is for you.

Debian releases last longer than Ubuntu, coming out around every two to three years. This allows you to use it longer and spend less time learning your way around new releases.

For developers who want to see ahead into upcoming releases, Debian Unstable or Experimental versions (which MyHost doesn’t typically support) are great to see in action. With these, you get to use a continuous version that rolls out regular updates for apps and components rather than wait for a new LTS version.

Debian: Top Benefits

  • Rock-solid stability ✓
  • Compatibility with various server architectures ✓
  • Great for expert developers or admins who want greater room for customization ✓
  • Best for enterprise-level projects ✓

Flexible choice of Linux distro

If you want to hop on a VPS that allows you to take advantage of any of these distros, join MyHost today.

Our VPS Hosting can run smoothly whether you pick Ubuntu, Debian or CentOS. This means you have a free choice to deploy and build on whatever OS you think is best for your business.

We hope we helped you understand key differences between major distros, and be more confident in choosing a distro. If you need more assistance and information, you can always reach out with questions anytime.

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