Ubuntu LTS is (probably) still the best Linux for us and many people

October 19, 2019

I write a certain amount of unhappy things about Ubuntu here. This is not because I hate Ubuntu, contrary to what it may appear like; I don't write about things that I hate, because I try to think about them as little as possible (cf spam). Ubuntu is a tool for us, and I actually think it is a good tool, which is part of why we use it and keep using it. So today I'm going to write about the attractions of Ubuntu, specifically Ubuntu LTS, for people who want to get stuff done with their servers and for their users without too much fuss and bother (that would be us).

In no particular order:

  • It has a long support period, which reduces churn and the make work of rebuilding and testing a service that is exactly the same except on top of a new OS and a new version of packages. We routinely upgrade many of our machines every other LTS version (which means reinstalling them), which means we get around four years of life out of a given install (I wrote about this years ago here).

    (We have a whole raft of machines that were installed in the summer and fall of 2016, when 16.04 was fresh, and which will be rebuilt in the summer and fall of 2020 on 20.04.)

  • It has a regular and predictable release schedule, which is good for our planning in various ways. This includes figuring out if we want to hold off on building a new service up right now so that we can wait to base it on the next LTS release.

    (This regularity and predictability is one reason our Linux ZFS fileservers are based on Ubuntu instead of CentOS. 18.04 was there at the time, and CentOS 8 was unknown and uncertain.)

  • It has a large collection of packages (which mostly work, despite my grumbling). Building local copies of software is a pain in the rear and we want to do it as little as possible, ideally not at all.

  • It has relatively current software and refreshes its software on a regular basis (every two years, due to the LTS release cadence), which lets us avoid the problems caused by using zombie Linux distributions. This regular refresh is part of the appeal of the regular and predictable release schedule.

  • Since it's popular, it's well supported by software (often along with Debian). For two examples that are relevant to us, Grafana provides .debs and Certbot is available through a PPA.

  • Debian has made a number of good, sysadmin friendly decisions about how to organize configuration files for applications and Ubuntu has inherited them. For example, they have the right approach to Apache configuration.

I don't know of another Linux distribution that has all of these good things, and that includes both Debian and CentOS (despite what I said about Debian only a year ago). CentOS has very long support but not predictable releases and current software, and even with EPEL's improved state it may not have the package selection. Debian has unpredictable releases and a shorter support period.

(As a purely pragmatic matter we're unlikely to switch to something that is simply about as good as Ubuntu, even if it existed. Since switching or using two Linuxes has real costs, the new thing would have to be clearly better. We do use CentOS for some rare machines because the extremely long support period is useful enough for them.)

Written on 19 October 2019.
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Last modified: Sat Oct 19 22:58:39 2019
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