Which of the supported Linux distributions should I choose for my server?
Which OS you select is largely dependent on your data center and what they support. I will go through the current supported distributions and give you some more information to help you make a decision.
RedHat Linux 7.5/8/9 – While well respected and stable OS’s all of these are currently End Of Life (EOL) which means that RedHat Inc. is no longer creating updates for them. However many third parties on the Internet are filling this gap to some extent. Many data centers are still using them but unless you have a fully managed server or are comfortable manually locating and installing patches and upgrades to the software packages yourself you should not select one of these. The Fedora Legacy Project is providing limited number of updates for RedHat 9, but these are only security fixes and have been limited thus far. InterWorx WILL apply these (Fedora Legacy) packages automatically if you have AutoUpdate enabled. However the window for these is nearing it’s end.
When RedHat discontinued the RedHat Linux line it switched official support exclusively to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, RHEL is a COMMERCIAL project which means that you have to purchase it with a paid subscription. RHEL comes in several versions depending on your needs. RHEL is designed to run web servers and is an excellent product if you are willing to pay for it. It is very stable and rock solid. Some DC’s do not charge extra for it and include the licensing fee with your server rental. InterWorx currently supports RHEL 3.x and 4.x.
RedHat Inc. also sponsors the open source Fedora Core. Fedora Core is NOT officially supported by RedHat. This means that tech support for this OS is not available directly from RedHat. However, there are thousands of people on the internet who are more than happy to assist users, some for free, others for a fee. Development on Fedora Core is guided by a volunteer developer’s community. Unlike RHEL, Fedora Core releases several major updates a year. Since it was released in January of 2004 it has had 4 major releases to date. Fedora has a reputation for being more “cutting edge” than RHEL. It also has a reputation for being more buggy and less stable. I’ve heard people say that this is only really suitable for a desktop OS, but have yet to see anyone provide any evidence to support this. Because of the significant changes and rapid updates it requires more testing before it is officially “supported” by InterWorx. For example, as of this writing FC4 is available, but is not yet tested or supported by InterWorx. If you are either one of those who must have the newest OS as soon as it is released OR who is uncomfortable with frequent distribution upgrades you may not want Fedora.
CentOS 3.x/4.x – “CentOS is an Enterprise-class Linux Distribution derived from sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendors redistribution policy and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.) CentOS is free.” (from the CentOS website). What this means in plain English is that the CentOS developers take the source RPM’s from Red Hat Enterprise Linux and recompile them, making minimal changes, primarily in the area of logos and other copyrighted property, tweak it and release it. This is PERFECTLY LEGAL under the GPL, the license that governs all Linux distributions. What this means is that you get the stability of RedHat Enterprise Linux without the cost, RedHat logos, and support from RedHat. CentOS does have an active and growing development team and user community, and because it is virtually identical to REHL in every way that really matters, support is easy to come by on the Internet. This is what I use and what I recommend others use if they can get it.
WhiteBox Linux – The goal of WhiteBox Linux is “to provide an unencumbered RPM based Linux distribution that retains enough compatibility with Red Hat Linux to allow easy upgrades and to retain compatibility with their Errata srpms.” (from the WhiteBox website). WhiteBox Linux is based upon the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.x source RPM’s…
As stated above my first recommendation is for users to use the most current CentOS or RHEL (some data centers just include this for free and include the licensing fee with the cost of the server). If this is not available I recommend the most currently supported Fedora Core. I have absolutely no experience with WhiteBox, nor have I heard much about it.
EDIT: RedHat 7/8 and WhiteBox are no longer considered supported distrobutions.