Linux server distributions exist for many different uses. In addition to the widespread systems Debian and Ubuntu, numerous smaller providers are also recommended. Since support for CentOS is ending, young successors like AlmaLinux or Rocky Linux are trying to follow in the big footsteps.
There are numerous Linux server distributions to choose from
Whether newcomer or professional: Unlike Windows or Mac, the path with Linux is not fixed from the outset. While other operating systems release new versions at regular intervals and sooner or later stop supporting the old ones, with Linux the choice is up to the user. There is only one kernel, some GNU tools, and finally hundreds of Linux distributions. Not all of them are recommended and some are better than others for certain needs. Thanks to the open-source approach, every developer can in principle set up and offer their own system.
In the following, we will introduce you to Linux server distributions that have been fully developed and therefore deliver the best possible results. For others, we will show you which applications certain Linux distributions are best suited for and what advantages and disadvantages the individual operating systems have. So if you’re looking to migrate to Linux or switch within the system, this will give you a good idea and help you make the best choice for your needs.
The best Linux server operating systems at a glance
|operating system||Base||Suitable for||application|
|AlmaLinux||CentOS||Beginners and professionals||Numerous uses|
|CentOS||CentOS||Beginners and professionals||Numerous uses|
|RockyLinux||CentOS||Beginners and professionals||Numerous uses|
|Ubuntu||debian||Beginners and professionals||Numerous uses|
|flat car||CoreOS||professionals||Container Implementations|
|Photon OS||–||professionals||Container Implementations|
|openSUSE Leap||GNU||Beginners and professionals||Legacy hardware environments|
|TrueNAS Core||FreeBSD||Beginners and professionals||Network-attached storage|
AlmaLinux is one of the youngest Linux server distributions. The first stable version has only been available since 2021. The distribution is maintained and further developed by an open community and was created as a fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. AlmaLinux is intended to replace CentOS sooner or later and is free.
Pros and cons of AlmaLinux
Since AlmaLinux sees itself as the successor to CentOS, the developers have made sure that the changeover can be carried out as easily as possible. Packages, configurations and the like can therefore be adopted one-to-one. Another advantage is certainly the availability and openness of the community. In principle, everyone can contribute to AlmaLinux and optimize the operating system for themselves. There are also no usage restrictions or licenses. Support is guaranteed until 2029. AlmaLinux is largely limited to the essentials and comes with LibreOffice, Mozilla Firefox as well as Python, PostgreSQL, and MariaDB.
So far, AlmaLinux has not had any serious disadvantages. However, this is also due to the fact that this is one of the youngest Linux distributions and the field reports are therefore not yet available in large numbers. Whether AlmaLinux can assert itself and keep up with the older distributions will only become clear after some time. It is also currently not possible to foresee how well updates will be delivered and how quickly any problems that may arise can be solved. In addition, the dependence on sponsors is a small downer, which is more than made up for by the completely free availability.
Who is AlmaLinux suitable for?
AlmaLinux is primarily aimed at CentOS users. Anyone looking for an alternative to the popular distribution will find it here. The conversion is very simple and later use is also based on easily understandable processes. So if you are looking for completely free and reliable Linux server distributions, you will find them at AlmaLinux.
Debian is one of the classic and long-running Linux server distributions. The system has been around since 1993 and has a huge fan base worldwide. Debian not only uses this but also looks after the system. Debian is the basis for numerous other Linux distributions but is also constantly being optimized by more than 1,000 official developers. The operating system is equally suitable for servers, desktops, and laptops.
Pros and cons of Debian
In addition to the free availability, the stability and at the same time versatility speak in favor of Debian. The operating system is not only reliable but also supports numerous hardware architectures and allows users to make many individual adjustments. Debian offers more than 57,000 different packages. Nevertheless, the operating system is very light in comparison and has only low memory requirements.
Debian is only suitable for beginners to a limited extent since installation and setup are comparatively time-consuming and complicated. Updates do not come at fixed intervals and are therefore difficult to plan. Personal package archives are not supported. In addition, the interface is clear, but not really modern.
Who is Debian for?
Debian is a reliable solution for experienced developers who are mainly active in the software and hardware area. Other Linux distributions are more suitable for private users or beginners.
CentOS has been built on top of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) since 2009 but is open source and free. The operating system is binary compatible with RHEL and inspires with its easy handling . Especially in the field of Linux server distributions, CentOS has always been convincing and was considered a worthwhile entry-level solution for many users. However, Red Hat has announced that support for CentOS will end in 2024. The successor CentOS Stream is viewed rather negatively by many developers because it is much more experimental and no longer fully compatible with RHEL. Instead, the new solution acts more as a test bed for the commercial system.
Pros and cons of CentOS
CentOS is and was considered a free entry-level solution that could offer the features of RHEL. The operating system runs very stably and is very secure thanks to strong monitoring and regular patches from the community. The overall support is also excellent.
However, CentOS is not a solution for the future, as support for the operating system will be discontinued in the foreseeable future. Although many RHEL applications also run on CentOS, this is not always guaranteed because the necessary certifications are missing.
Who is CentOS suitable for?
CentOS is now actually only suitable for beginners who want to get to know RHEL without paying for it. Other Linux distributions are recommended for long-term projects.
Rocky Linux is one of the Linux distributions set to succeed CentOS. The RHEL clone is named after the late CentOS co-founder Rocky McGough and is also binary compatible. Rocky Linux has also only been available since 2021 and has a Gnome desktop environment. Rocky Linux 8.5 relies on Secure Boot and is also operated via a community, which means that the system is free of charge. Numerous sponsors provide the necessary funds in the background.
Pros and cons of Rocky Linux
Switching from CentOS or RHEL to Rocky Linux is very simple. Basically, the operating system convinces with its simple installation and use. The system is suitable for cloud and HPC and has so far been considered very stable and modern.
Even with Rocky Linux, however, the question remains as to what the future will bring. The first reports are very promising, but only in the next few years and after a few updates will it become clear what role the operating system can play in the field of Linux server distributions.
Who is Rocky Linux suitable for?
CentOS users can now choose between Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux. The former got off to a promising start and impresses with its smooth transition and ease of use.
Ubuntu is one of the largest and most popular Linux distributions out there. The operating system has its roots in Debian but is now an equal competitor. The further development has been around since 2005. A major difference between the two systems is that the newer system is much easier to use. Ubuntu is a recommended alternative, especially for private users.
Pros and cons of Ubuntu
The simple installation and use speak clearly for Ubuntu. The operating system also works perfectly on mobile devices. Ubuntu is known for a very clear and regular update policy, so new versions can be scheduled in advance. Through cooperation with various hardware and software manufacturers, Ubuntu offers great compatibility with numerous providers.
A disadvantage is the size of the operating system, which takes up a lot of space. In addition to free software, Ubuntu also uses commercial products. Individual adjustments are only possible within a very limited framework. In addition, the system is not free but is sponsored by the London company Canonical.
Who is Ubuntu for?
For users who are just looking for a reliable operating system and prefer a simple structure, Ubuntu is a good choice. Switching from Windows is particularly easy with Ubuntu.
Flatcar was developed for infrastructures that rely on containers. The project of the German company Kinvolk is open source and was created with the aim of providing a secure and at the same time user-friendly and cloud-native operating system. The company now operates under the Microsoft umbrella. Flatcar was originally a fork of CoreOS and is therefore easier to understand for those familiar with this operating system. There is now an additional paid Pro version of Flatcar.
Pros and cons of Flatcar
When it comes to handling containers, Flatcar is certainly one of the best and most secure Linux distributions in the world. An active community ensures constant improvements and is available with advice and action. The operating system offers numerous tools for even more targeted Kubernetes applications.
However, the clear specialization also means that Flatcar is not the best choice for other areas. Although the operating system also works as a CoreOS successor, it is particularly recommended for experienced admins.
Who is Flatcar suitable for?
Flatcar is aimed at experienced CoreOS users and is a focused container distribution.
Photon OS from VMware was also developed for use in containers and is open source. Supported are u. Docker, Rocket, and Pivotal’s Garden. The operating system is kept very minimalist and supports the architectures ARM64, x64, and Raspberry Pi.
Pros and cons of Photon OS
The minimalist approach is also evident in the size. Photon OS is very space-saving and at the same time fast. Most common container formats are supported. The system is optimized for operation on VMware platforms and is therefore a good addition that can be introduced without any problems.
Compared to many other Linux server distributions, Photon OS is rather lightweight with few additional features.
Who is Photon OS suitable for?
Photon OS is primarily intended for users who work with VMware and need a useful addition for working with containers.
openSUSE Leap is one of several operating systems from SUSE SA in Nuremberg and an international developer community. Since 2015, it has mainly been used as a server operating system and for desktop use. Instead of DEB packages, the software is delivered here as an RPM. openSUSE Leap offers either Gnome or KDE as the standard desktop and relies on YaST as the administration tool. There are regular updates that can be installed every few months.
Pros and cons of openSUSE Leap
openSUSE has established itself as a serious alternative to Debian or Ubuntu. The operating system is very user-friendly and has good documentation. In addition, it is very stable and includes some pre-installed programs such as LibreOffice, Mozilla Firefox, or Flatpak.
Unfortunately, many programs are not available for openSUSE Leap. The system is therefore not always up to date. The operating system is also rather mediocre in terms of looks.
For whom is openSUSE Leap suitable?
openSUSE Leap is particularly useful when dealing with older hardware. Thanks to its reliability and stability, no unpleasant surprises are to be expected. However, those who value the latest kernel versions are more likely to use one of the other Linux distributions.
TrueNAS Core is the successor to iXsystems’ popular FreeNAS. The operating system for network-attached storage is based on FreeBSD and is suitable for hardware compatible with 64-bit, VM, or public cloud. Also included is the current version of the OpenZFS file system. In addition to the free Core version, there is the Enterprise option, which is chargeable and offers additional functions.
Pros and cons of TrueNAS Core
TrueNAS Core supports all major operating systems such as Windows and Apple. Although the core version is free, it can also be used by companies. The save system is very user-friendly and quite secure. The unlimited number of snapshots and clones can be created. The system is open source and supported by a large community.
The resource requirements of TrueNAS Core are comparatively high, which is why the operating system is only suitable for appropriately equipped kernels.
Who is TrueNAS Core for?
TrueNAS Core is a good choice for many different use cases. Private individuals or companies that have large memory requirements will find a suitable solution in the operating system.
Conclusion: Linux server distributions at a glance
When choosing the right Linux variant for your own purposes, there are many different factors that you should consider. Linux offers numerous distributions for servers, desktops, or other applications in professional and private environments. The Linux distributions listed above are used by IONOS because they are among the most reliable operating systems on the market.