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We run a small start-up in the SaaS industry. About half of our current staff are developers using their own laptops with various Linux distros (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora) with a few exceptions of Windows XP. The other half of our staff performs administrative tasks using only OpenOffice, Thunderbird & Firefox and have very little interest in what OS that is used as long as it works.

As we're going to invest in workstations for our staff very soon, we need to choose a Linux distribution that will become the default in the company. Stability will be the primary focus and after what I've read, either Debian or centOS seems to be the appropriate choice - after ruling RHEL out for economical reasons.

From an unbiased business perspective soberly looking at pros and cons and putting preferences aside, what should be our concerns?

  • Is there anything that either centOS or debian can offer us that the other distro won't?

  • What about SElinux and similar security systems?

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1  
My recommendation would be centos or debian, without selinux. fedora releases too often (and is cutting edge, read: often broken). suselinux may be an option, i've not used it in enterprise. My personal opinion would be centos, as debian installation is a little kludgy, i dont know how well it would work with san units and iscsi etc. –  Sirex Feb 3 '12 at 14:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I don't think you'd find a general standard answer to this question. The truth is only you know the answer to it.

Some random points to take into consideration:

Avoid exotic distributions

There are solid distros around (debian, centos, opensuse, ubuntu, fedora, ...) to chose from. No need to consider getting your own LFS or something like Gobolinux. Not only are mainstream distributions more field tested, but they're also easier to get help for.

What's on your server?

It may be easier to get the same distro (or a close relative debian-ubuntu, centos-fedora, ...) to your work stations. Can you imagine an incompatibility between developer's env and production server?

Ask your developers

No need to impose a distro that is "better" if none of your programmers know how to use it. Ask them for an opinion, it'd be far more accurate.

Consider paid support

Sometimes, even the most skilled linux guru doesn't have the time to support dozens of workstations. Canonical, Red Hat, and so many others, offer paid support. Even though it seems expensive, delegating support to 3rd party will allow you to focus on your core business, what you do best.

Avoid Rolling Releases

This is a small variation of the first point. There's nothing worse than supporting a version-less product. Arch Linux, Sabayon, Gentoo are great distributions, but since they lack proper versioning, it's very easy to get lost. Remember, if you're asking this question here, you're probably looking to unify the working environment of your developers. Versions are a must.

Read up on the specifics

Your business probably relies on some specific packages (like PHP, MySQL, git, memcached, ...). Browse the documentation of existing distro looking for common/known issues before adopting it.

That's all I can think of, for now. I know they're more questions than actual answers, but nonetheless I hope it helps.

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While SELinux is a good option for a highly sensitive environment, it will require skilled admins and may not be appropriate for a start up as you will find you need to remove controls.

So a more standard distro will be easier to maintain.

Debian, CentOs or Ubuntu would be just fine- they can all be secured appropriately, have active development and maintenance and are easily usable.

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Use CentOS. But let your staff choose whether to use KDE or GNOME.

Debian will change too often. RH has announced a support of full 10 years for RH5 and RH6 - that is a long way to go.

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3  
Debian will change too often? Dangit, that's the first time I heard that. –  Christopher Mahan Feb 3 '12 at 22:09
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@Nils Debian supports old-stable which is at least 8 years old. –  jeremiah Jun 28 '13 at 12:40
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But why you would want a 10 year old distro is beyond me. –  jeremiah Jun 28 '13 at 12:41
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@jeremiah: According to this oldstable gets one year of support (at most!) after the release of the successive stable. That would mean that Squeeze for example, would get a total of 5 years of support, including the 2 years it spent as "testing". How did you come up with the 8 year number? –  rahmu Jun 29 '13 at 9:35
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@rahmu I got downvoted, because this distribution-discussions always get emotional. But even startups want to stay "stable" without having to worry about their own systems. I started off with OpenSuSE, some collegues tried Ubuntu/LTS and now we are all happy with CentOS. So this is my definite point here - but there are other answers with other opinions - I can live with that. –  Nils Dec 17 '13 at 14:12

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