What Linux distributions we use (and sort of why)

July 21, 2006

A friend is currently polling people about what Linux distributions they use and why. Since my answer is moderately long and I dislike editing in browsers and I actually want to capture this for future use, I'm putting it here.

On servers, I have direct experience with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora Core, and Debian. We use RHEL instead of CentOS mostly because the university arranged a site license, so it's effectively free to use. RHEL gets used on a lot of mission critical bits of infrastructure, including the IMAP server pool for the campus wide email system.

On workstations (depending on how you define that), I have Fedora Core, Debian, and a recent Ubuntu test install in a VMWare image. We've used FC in student labs as well as for sysadmin machines, and I use FC on my home machine.

My ideal Linux distribution would have:

  1. relatively frequent releases with relatively current software (at least one release a year)
  2. three or four years of security fixes for old releases
  3. easy upgrades from one release to the next.

Debian misses out on #1 in a big way, which has caused me a bunch of pain in the past.

Fedora Core does #1 and #3 but skips #2 (although there's always the Fedora Legacy project). This means I like it on workstations and relatively constantly evolving servers, but I don't want to bother with it on relatively static servers.

RHEL makes me wary about #1 and a bit of #3 but nails #2 to the wall, making me like it a lot for servers I want to throw in a corner and forget about.

Ubuntu looks promising, since they claim to be doing all three. I'm a little bit wary of trusting this; after all, back around the Red Hat 7.x time, Red Hat looked like it would do all three too. And doing all three is a lot of work.

Sidebar: RHEL versus CentOS

I consider CentOS and RHEL equivalent since they are built from the same source base and the CentOS goal is more or less to have exactly the same binary bits. RHEL may have a better integrated and slightly more prompt update system; on the other hand, I would sort of rather use yum anyways.

The one big thing you get with RHEL that you don't get with CentOS is various forms of official paid for support and certification. If you need an officially signed off 'guaranteed to work, supported by the vendor' Oracle installation, you can't get by with CentOS.

Written on 21 July 2006.
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Last modified: Fri Jul 21 01:39:56 2006
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