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What are the key areas (except package management) where Fedora/RHEL/CentOS differ from Debian/Ubuntu Linux systems? I'm asking this from a newbie's perspective to the Linux admin world so that I can make a more informed choice.

EDIT: Let me rephrase, how does the organization of /etc, /proc, /dev , boot process etc differ in debian and redhat?

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Linux distributions by and large follow the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard, so most important directories are in the same place. –  Gilles Dec 7 '12 at 22:16

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

In general the different distributions are very similar, and the main differences beyond the package-management tools is the configuration of particular software.

For example under a Redhat / CentOS system you'll install Apache via rpm and the configuration files will live beneath /etc/httpd. Under a Debian/Ubuntu system you'd install via apt-get and find that the configuration files live beneath /etc/apache2.

This is a trivial example of both systems running the same software, but it being slightly different. In real terms though the differences are trivial.

Perhaps more interesting are the different systems chosen by the distributions. For example the mail-server installed by default would be sendmail on CentOS, postfix on Ubuntu and exim4 on Debian. These choices can usually be changed, but you might find yourself struggling to replace larger and more core components such as the startup tool (upstart vs sysv-init etc).

Update: /proc & /dev will be largely identical across systems running a given kernel - as they come from the kernel (+/- udev/upstart).

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Debian is more versatile. It can run on a phone to a server. Very stable and has a small memory footprint. Its also easier to use compared to Redhat. I used Redhat's small brother, Fedora and it drove me crazy in setting up LAMP. Its has an additional folder inside /var/www/html. For Debian is just /var/www. Also, its got Synaptic Manager for easer and surer installation for guyz who don't want to use the terminal.

The Debian is universal but redhat has both server and desktop. This makes Debian by far, more economical.

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The statements here range from uninformed to absurd. Though I prefer Debian, these are not factual reasons for its superiority. –  Tom Dworzanski Jul 27 '13 at 7:24

Two key differences, but the grouping is slightly different:

  1. Debian/Ubuntu LTS, RHEL/CentOS, SLES are geared towards stability (longer release cycles and maintenance) while Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE give preference to features over stability. Note that this is in the sense of three-plus nines, i.e. 99.9x% and higher - Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSUSE are still reasonably stable, but the software in the more conservative distributions is more tested due to being older, so it's likely to have less bugs.

  2. Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE use upstart/systemd while the other ones stick to SysV-like init (at least for now).

  3. Each of the distributions has different system configuration tools.

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