When setting up a cloud server on CloudNX from Fasthosts you get the choice of operating systems, on Windows or Linux. Read our previous blog post for a comparison between Windows and Linux operating systems.
Ultimately, if you’re already familiar with one Linux distro, you’re likely going to keep using that one. But if you’re just getting started, there are some differences between Linux distros. Here, we’ll compare some of the most popular Linux distributions available on CloudNX.
Debian vs Ubuntu vs CentOS
Debian was one of the first Linux distributions and has been available since 1993. The most current version is Debian 9. At the start of 2017, Debian had a 31.9% market share amongst the Linux distros running web servers for the web’s top 10 million sites.
Stable Debian releases are unscheduled but tend to be about once every two years. As a result of this large gap between releases, Debian can be seen as being quite slow to introduce new technology. This means that out of the box, a Debian Linux distro might not include some of the latest software releases and technologies.
The Debian Project offers security support for stable releases until one year after the next stable release. Debian 8 was released in April 2015, which meant that security support for Debian 7 ended in April 2016. And Debian 7 was released in May 2013, so effectively it’s about three years.
On top of the security support, for newer releases, long-term support (LTS) is offered for five years after the initial release date.
One benefit of these longer release schedules is that it gives extra time for testing before release. As such, Debian is considered to be a more stable Linux distro than many others, because with two years between releases, there’s plenty of time to test and fix any bugs. The increased security and stability of Debian make it a better choice for enterprises.
Debian 9 comes with around 52,000 software packages, so there is plenty to get going with. However, you can configure it to add some extra software packages if you need to. Unlike some other Linux distros, only free software packages are available.
Although it’s been around longer, the Debian community is smaller than Ubuntu’s. The community is active however, and can provide help and support.
The Debian Linux distro is often considered to be more suitable for Linux experts than beginners. It’s more complicated to install as there’s an assumed level of knowledge required. Assuming the user has this knowledge, the Debian installer gives a higher degree of control and customisation over its configuration. This is one of the reasons it’s the preferred Linux distro for experienced users.
The first version of Ubuntu, Ubuntu 4.04, was released in October 2004 as a fork of Debian. With a 34.8% market share in 2016, it overtook Debian as the world’s most popular Linux distro. The most current version is Ubuntu 17.04, where the numbers represent the year (17) and the month (April/04) of release.
New versions of Ubuntu are released every six months – almost always in April and October. This release period being a quarter of Debian’s means that Ubuntu versions get new and updated software much before Debian does.
Starting with Ubuntu 6.06, every fourth version of Ubuntu is a designated long-term support (LTS) release. LTS releases are fully supported for five years, whereas non-LTS releases are only supported for (about) nine months. The latest LTS release, Ubuntu 16.04 is supported until 2021.
Because of the shorter release cycles, when compared to Debian and CentOS, Ubuntu releases are less stable. The extra time allows Debian and CentOS releases to be more thoroughly tested. The sacrifice on stability for quicker releases makes Ubuntu less suited to enterprises, but more suited to individual users who want more up-to-date packages.
Because Ubuntu is based on Debian, most software packages are usable on both distros, but there’s sometimes a little bit of work required to make them fully compatible. Unlike Debian however, Ubuntu offers free and proprietary software. According to this list, there are over 72,000 software packages available on the latest release of Ubuntu.
As Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distro, it’s also the one with the largest level of community support. The Ubuntu community is very active, and provides help, support and tutorials. This makes Ubuntu suitable for beginners, as it’s much easier to solve problems with a wide and willing community offering support.
The Ubuntu installation is easier, and better for beginners compared to other Linux distros. The graphical installation interface is more intuitive than a command-line interface. However, Ubuntu does offer an ‘Expert Mode’ installation, which is similar to Debian’s, which allows for more customisation and configuration if required.
Like Ubuntu forked from Debian, CentOS is based on the open source code of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), and provides an enterprise-grade operating system for free. The first version of CentOS, CentOS 2 (named as such because it’s based off RHEL 2.0) was released in 2004. The latest release version is CentOS 7.
CentOS releases are far less frequent than Ubuntu and more sporadic than Debian. The last four major releases were 2014, 2011, 2007 and 2005, so there’s not really much pattern to them. There are, however, more frequent minor version releases.
All major versions since CentOS 5 have maintenance updates for 10 years and full updates for (about) six years. These updates follow the Red Hat Enterprise Linux support life cycle.
Only truly stable versions of CentOS are released, which is partly why they sometimes take so long. The years between releases ensure plenty of time for thorough testing. And, any security fixes are backported into older versions for any vulnerabilities discovered when building the new version.
With a 20.4% market share, the CentOS user base is smaller than Ubuntu’s, and as such, there is less community support and online tutorials available.
The lack of community support and more difficult installation makes CentOS tricky to pick up for Linux beginners. Instead, because it’s based on the enterprise-grade RHEL, CentOS is usually preferred by businesses and web agencies who are already familiar with Linux distros.
Debian vs Ubuntu vs CentOS
Although there are differences between the Linux distros, it mainly comes down to preference. There is not an overall ‘best Linux distro’, it’s all just opinion and circumstances. Ubuntu is probably better for Linux beginners because it’s easier to set up and use, Debian is probably better for experienced users who want full control, and CentOS is probably better for businesses who want a more stable and secure Linux distro.