There are so many linux distributions out there and while they are all very similar, they are different in ways due to their target audiences.
Some are targeted more towards the end-user like Ubuntu while others are clearly targeted towards the Enterprise. Ubuntu is a great distribution for a desktop replacement, but for me, I just run CentOS. Just my personal preference.
For Example, there is always Redhat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) which is a true enterprise distribution with a company behind it that supports the product. The features in RHEL are very robust and management of multiple RHEL servers is very easy. In fact, it’s a one click update process using their management capabilities.
The only issue is, it is for the enterprise. It’s expensive. Small businesses really can’t afford it, but the day you move from small to mid-size (as in company size), you should look into it seriously.
Then, there’s the Poor Man’s Redhat. Built from Redhat Source minus their proprietary stuff, it’s basically, the exact same thing. This distribution is CentOS. Basically, if you know CentOS, for the most part, you know Redhat.
Slackware: The true geek’s distribution. It’s all about doing everything yourself. It’s slim, compared to others, but requires more time to set-up. A slackware installation when set-up properly is just absolutely rock-solid. No bloat in Slackware.
PuppyLinux: A tiny little linux distribution that’s great for small devices.
uLinux: A very slimmed down version of linux for embedded devices.
I can go on and on about the different distributions, but there are just so many it’s hard to count. I’ll let Wikipedia do that for me.
There’s a flavor of Linux for everyone, but if you’re looking to cut your teeth on this wonderful OS, choose wisely. They are all just a “little” different and it’s those differences that make or break your application or purpose in many cases.
Things to look for that are very important such as package management. A very important feature. You don’t want to spend your time compiling every piece of software and its dependencies for hours.
If you’re considering deploying something on Linux, choose wisely. Download Virtualbox and play with a couple of different distributions before making a decision. Also, do your research.
I will say that the easier a linux distribution is to use, the more bloated the configuration is on the machine. This means extra CPU cycles and lost performance.
I personally prefer CentOS or RHEL, but I spend more time removing packages than I do anything else to eek out as much performance as I can.
The enterprise world has standardized on RHEL and CentOS (as far as I’ve seen), the desktop world or casual linux user prefers Ubuntu, but I just can’t seem to wrap myself around versions named after things rather than just a straight numbering system. I guess I’m more of a binary person at heart than a creative, although, I seem to do well with lateral thought.
So if you’re looking to delve into this world, consider one thing. Take your time and test the distributions out there before selecting one. Migrating across distributions is never fun and nobody wants a mixed bag of OS distributions in their data center.