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Best Linux distributions for enterprise computing needs

There are a lot of Linux distributions out there. Out of those hundreds of variations, which are best suited for enterprise-level servers and desktops?

Since taste is such a personal thing and specific types of users are drawn to specific types of distributions, it's almost impossible to say "Distribution A is best suited for User X" because there are too many variables to affect your opinion. When you dive into the waters of enterprise computing, however, things begin to get a little clearer. Certain distributions begin to rise to the top. I thought I'd take a moment to offer up my list of best Linux distros for large companies. This list is not based on sales numbers, Distrowatch, or marketing hype. For this list, it's all about experience and (hopefully) a sound insight into what is to come. And I'm not going to compare feature for feature. Why? This is open source, so it's possible to roll in whatever feature you want. Even proprietary features eventually can be reverse-engineered.

I'll tackle both the server and the desktop. First, we'll look at the server.

Best server distros

I want to assume, since we're speaking of enterprise-level needs, that money is no object. Because of that, the single best choice for an enterprise server distribution is Red Hat Linux. Why? Because they get the needs of large companies. In fact, the bread and butter of RHEL is large companies. All one really has to do is look at the Red Hat application stack and it becomes quite clear. With tools like JBoss Application Server as a middleware solution for serving up Java-based applications as well as other cloud-based solutions, you have a platform that is as powerful as it is flexible.

But beyond the software (which anyone could re-create and deploy -- thank you, open source), you have the partnerships Red Hat has developed, which helps to focus the enterprise mindset of Red Hat. AMD, Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel -- do those names ring a bell? And what about support? Red Hat also offers numerous resources for the enterprise in the way of support, including a vast open source library.

Best Use

  • Cloud platform
  • Virtualization
  • High availability cluster

Next to Red Hat, the best enterprise-level server distribution would be SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. With SLES you will find just as robust a platform as you will with Red Hat, but on a somewhat smaller scale. Yes, SLES can handle the loads enterprise environments place on servers, but SUSE doesn't have quite the reputation or market share to ensure as bright a future as does Red Hat.

Best Uses

  • Virtualization
  • Firewall
  • File server

Best desktop distros

The times have changed and enterprise companies are starting to see the benefits of using Linux on the desktop. And why not? It's secure, it's reliable, it performs incredibly well, and is cost effective. Though one might think the best choice for an enterprise desktop would be one distributed by the likes of Red Hat (Red Hat Enterprise Desktop) or SUSE (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop). But, for me, the desktop apple falls a bit away from that tree. There's a new player on the field that has really changed the scope of how the end user works. That new player is Chrome OS.

Chrome OS makes perfect sense because its narrow focus ensures an enterprise IT department can deploy desktops to end users and know that they more reliably function on a much simpler platform. Companies will have less worry about viruses or even end users installing apps that are outside the scope of their duties. And with seamless integration with Google Apps, Chrome OS just makes sense. And with Google behind Chrome OS -- it is sure to continue to thrive and grow.

Best use

  • Desktop users who rely on Google Apps
  • Web-based tool interaction

The next best choice for the enterprise desktop probably won't surprise you one bit -- Ubuntu Linux. But why Ubuntu, when portions of the open source community are spitting such venom their way? Ubuntu is on this list for a few reasons. The primary reason Ubuntu should be included in the short list of enterprise desktop platforms is vision. No matter how you feel about the choices Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical have made, it cannot be denied that, outside of Google, they have done more to get Linux to the masses than any other. To accomplish this, a lot of professional polish has been applied to Ubuntu. All of that hard work, focus, and polish has paid off to deliver a professional, business-ready desktop for the masses. Once the Ubuntu Phone and Tablet finally arrive, there will be a unified platform that businesses can roll out to make life easier for end users of all types.

Best use

  • Desktop user
  • Mobile user
  • Power user
  • Developer

Of course, there will be those who argue (there always is with Linux), but those are my best choices for enterprise use. Some might argue that there are better distributions for the desktop; some might even say Linux still isn't ready for business... but the trends don't lie. Enterprise-level companies get it. Red Hat, SUSE, Google, and Canonical get it. When the dust settles, it will be those distributions making the most noise in larger companies. Now, it's just a matter of time before that noise filters down into the medium to small companies.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

30 comments
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

I have been using Oracle Linux for quite some time now, both as server and desktop. It's stable...it works, and there are very few problems with the packages it uses. I would highly recommend it for enterprise-wide usage!..

mla_ca520
mla_ca520

I just finally loaded Manjaro the other day on my laptop and I love it as a desktop. I don't know if I like it more than Kubuntu, but I it is pretty competitive. I do appreciate the Ubuntu LTS release system, but I might run my laptop as Manjaro and my desktop as Kubuntu. I've always wanted to move towards Arch, but never had the courage. Manjaro makes it workable!

Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

I dunno if anyone was paying attention but the author is giving up HIS OPINIONS as to what HE thinks are the best Server / Desktop OS'es out there.....for everyone to start chiming in as to which distro THEY would use is kinda a moot point...since he (The Author) has not solicited for anyone ELSE's opinion on the matter!.....

dallas
dallas

Hi all, Currently our servers are either WS2008 or centos. vmware for virtualisation. Desktops are generally a windows flavour, though I have ubuntu and virtualbox XP clients. Since it's a small software dev business we don't have the sort of enterprise requirements from core hardware and software, such as racking or OS support. We have more trouble figuring out which CRM or support system we will need to install to support future growth. If you don't have your own technical people, or are a time-poor technical person yourself, then the better linux distro's are going to be ones with support, both from a OS vendor POV and as well as the tier products you're going to install (such as mysql or php). Now that many hardware providers like hp and ibm have certified their products to work with certain OS flavours, taking advantage of this can be a big time-saver. Previously, at a large national organisation, we used sles (suse) almost exclusively for intelware servers. suse was great, a server OS, but the desktop went backwards. Prior to that too, I had redhat's with RHN, though I was more technical back then and community support was enough to solve all my problems. There's choice out there, do spend some time yourself evaluating the distros and choose the right one that suits your enterprise.

emenau
emenau

Still on Ubuntu, next move will most likely be Mint, other Debain based distro's are still an option.

arielmon
arielmon

I would go with Linux Mint instead of Ubuntu.

dhanushkapg
dhanushkapg

Best and popular Desktop distro is UBUNTU

craigc
craigc

I WAS a huge Redhat fan. Lots of subscriptions, good support... Until a few years ago something changed in Redhat's sales mentality.... they became downright harassing regarding renewals.. I have now told them in no uncertain terms I will not accept any calls from their sales department(s). I handle all subscriptions only via the Internet. I still recommend and use Redhat for mission critical systems, but now am also installing Oracle Linux which is FREE - unless you WANT to buy support. And Oracle linux LOOKS and acts like Redhat linux to third part apps so you don't get compatability issues. I have not attempted to enter the world of Oracle Support - I fear their sales department could be as bad as Redhats. If anyone is curious about Oracle Linux, you can download it here http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/server-storage/linux/overview/index.html So far my experince has been all good. P.S. I do not/ have not work(ed) for Oracle or Redhat.

oderaro
oderaro

Server distro=slackware period! With kde desktop isn't too bad either.

bhimraju
bhimraju

Hi Wallen, As always, a very nice article but I've seen only one issue with most of the Linux distros(Desktop) - It's printer driver support and applications support which is so minimal. The printer which works out of the box with Windows OS, takes too much trouble with linux.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

This massive reliance on the cloud scares me to death honestly, and the fact that some businesses are just willing to give up privacy on their personal hard drives for a cloud-connected OS is just borderline insane. I'm not saying that the cloud is all bad or that Chrome OS isn't slick looking, but I wouldn't trust my data to a third party that could pretty much do whatever they pleased with my data for advertising purposes. The immense trust in the cloud is not a good idea.

kdpawson
kdpawson

I think the server line up is a bit outdated, I'm seeing Ubuntu servers more and more and Canonical's partnering up with the likes of HP and OpenStack use is strong. Personally I've changed out some Debian servers for Ubuntu, mainly because it makes management more comfortable that if I go they can call Canonical and pay for support etc.

a.portman
a.portman

I worked for a pretty large enterprise that ran CentOS on every server that did not need to run a Windows application. Ease of use, robustness and scalability were the biggies. And the desire to not pay for a Linux server OS. I like Ubuntu and it's clones for the desktop. Easy to set up, easy to use and provides the END USER with a very fimilar interface. You remember the end users, the people we support. Not the ubergeek in the back room of the IT department who wants to give you three hours of why _________ is better.

jonnlakeland
jonnlakeland

Chrome OS should be judged on it's own merits, not just due to it being a Google product. Google drops projects that are not as popular as they want. If it is successful, it will continue to thrive and grow. If it is not, they will drop it, discontinue support, and move on to something else.

brandon
brandon

After deploying hundreds of Red Hat servers, including Red Hat Domain Controller environment I can say without a doubt Red Hat's support is less then lacking. The support department is horrible, there directory server is unstable and not the best choice in a real world environment. On the other side I've used Ubuntu for over 10 years and watched it progress, while I don't like the Unity interface the invention of Landscape has made Ubuntu a real winner. Access and control groups, patch management, software deployment etc, plus the fact that they really do provide true customer support for their business users. Once we get Ubuntu phone, tablet etc this could really be a Microsoft and Apple eye opener. I highly suggest you give it a try, you'll find it much nicer and won't break as much as RHEL. All in all they are all good distros, SUSE is GUI friendly and simple for entry level administrators, but have not used as extensively as RHEL or Ubuntu.

stonelx
stonelx

Rank the best enterprise level distros that aren't backed by big coroporations, even better, distros that are free, and don't charge bullshit subscriptions. :)

mla_ca520
mla_ca520

http://manjaro.org/ I haven't installed it yet, but it looks interesting. Curious about your thoughts? Also, curious what you think about Ubuntu server? I have used it some and like it pretty well. Won't disagree on RHEL though...I use Scientific Linux and really like it for a useful OOB.

rickshep
rickshep

Love Debian as a stable server environment. Never, ever on a desktop

kmdennis
kmdennis

@Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

>>Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

Jun 18, 2013

I have been using Oracle Linux for quite some time now, both as server and desktop. It's stable...it works, and there are very few problems with the packages it uses. I would highly recommend it for enterprise-wide usage!..<<,

And so yours is now excepted from....your statement!!!

lord_beavis
lord_beavis

Are a beacon of light in the dark and a voice of reason in chaos.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Take a look at a Linux distro that's been updated within the last few years. Printer driver support now works as well as Windows and Mac. (Since Mac is BSD, their machines actually use the same drivers as Linux does.) Personally, I've had more problems with getting some printers working with Win7...

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

What if all your data that went 'to the cloud' were encrypted prior to transmission? Then the third parties would have nothing from you but files of random bits -- useless for ads & anything else. Then it's little more than a network-attached storage service with the contents meaningful only to you.

The_Real_BSAFH
The_Real_BSAFH

Pffft.. Users.... Who needs 'em? They're just a bunch of mealy mouthed whingers. THey get what we give em and like it.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

The Samsung Chromebook has been a best-seller on Amazon for more than 7 months now. It's already taken off in popularity - so much so that other vendors (e.g., HP) have added Chromebook models to their lines. I have one of the ARM-based models, and it seems to live up to the hype. A real 'appliance' that hides the OS and all the fuss an OS requires. Businesses gotta love that part. (And those who've been embarrassed by news reports of laptops containing sensitive info being stolen especially so.) For its market segment, it makes a lot of sense, and it works. Which is probably why its selling, both for home use and business use. (I can't think of anything more suitable for the 'casual'/non-techie PC user.)

pgit
pgit

thanks for the tip... I'll give ubuntu another look. I wasn't impressed with ubuntu server last I looked at it, which was a couple years ago...

brandon
brandon

As working with small businesses I would recommend Centos or Ubuntu as server or workstation. Centos makes a nice server and workstation as it's stable, joins to Microsoft Active Directory simply and provides a GUI for your server that is lightweight and stable. Now if you need more cutting edge Ubuntu Alternative installer is a great way to go, this way you can install a GUI or use a pre-built like LUbuntu or Xubuntu if you're not confident with simply having a shell.

pgit
pgit

I was stunned when I booted Manjaro live DVD and the antique broadcom wifi worked flawlessly. Ironic that Manjaro is currently a beta, because it's more stable and just plain does everything better than the "release" fedora 18 that was installed previously. I'm very excited about Manjaro, as a 'rolling release' it'll obviate the need to do a full install every 6 or 12 months. With the Linux distros I've been using ( a lot of them) something is ALWAYS broken by the install. Video and wifi are the biggest problems, but I've seen a lot of problems, some you don't find for days or even weeks after you installed it. But so far with Manjaro I have had one "problem," not really a problem, but the version of firefox in Manjaro didn't work with my existing .mozilla configs. (I used a pre-existing /home) Otherwise, Manjaro is smooth as silk, and runs faster on my old dual core Dell Vostro laptop that I drag around to work sites. It runs faster and better than the winXP still on the hard drive. Manjaro is definitely a distro to watch. I predict it'll be in the top 10 on distrowatch before an 'official' release is out. :)

R.C.D.
R.C.D.

care to elaborate?

patknox
patknox

Debian aims to be a stable distro. As such, most of it's desktop software lag in version number. For example, I use Chrome/Chromium on my laptops, desktops, etc. To keep them sync'd (bookmarks, extensions, etc) I log into my Google account. Debian desktop has Chromium version 3.x (or something) while Ubuntu (and most other distros) uses version 25.x. Quite a lag! Because of this version lag, I am unable to log-in and sync my account. Trivial? yeah... but also annoying! The other problem is with the kernel. I bought a new HP Envy laptop last year. The "then-current" Debian kernal was unable to recognize the processor (Intel I7) so it would not install! I don't want bleeding edge for my desktop/laptop but up-to-date would be nice? NOTE: Debian 7 is now available with GNOME 3 so YMMV.