Six Reasons Why Linux Is Right for Small Business - Page 2

By Aaron Weiss
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CentOS 5
In the remix culture of Linux, there is another twist on the commercial vs. community paradigm: the "rebuild." In this case, a third-party collects the open source software that makes up a more well-known Linux distribution, like Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and re-packages it into a separate distribution.

Put another way, a rebuild is often like a clone, and in the open source software world is perfectly legal. CentOS ("Community ENTerprise Operating System") is just such a rebuild, a re-packaging of RHEL 5. Of course, while Red Hat provides formal support through license fees for RHEL 5, no such support is offered for CentOS.

In that case, how is CentOS different from Fedora? Because CentOS does not contain the "bleeding edge" components of Fedora, but the stable and well-tested components in RHEL 5. If you're new to open source, all this might sound a little shady, but in fact CentOS is one of the more popular Linux distributions. For the small business, CentOS offers a budget-conscious alternative to the stability risks of Fedora without paying for the formal support of RHEL 5.

Ubuntu 8.04
Some may raise an eyebrow at seeing Ubuntu listed among business-oriented Linux platforms. By its own design, Ubuntu &# 151a South African concept for "being human" — has been developed as an accessible, end-user-friendly Linux known for being warm and fuzzy.

Indeed, Ubuntu has developed a reputation not unlike the Mac. It is adored by desktop users, but without a strong presence in server racks. The reality, however, is somewhat different. Ubuntu (and Macs) do have a place on the server, although not so often seen in large scale enterprise back-ends.

For the small business, the Ubuntu Linux offers several attractive benefits. One, it is free to download and use in any scenario you want. You can optionally pay for a support subscription ($250 desktop/$750 server, annually). Unlike Red Hat and SUSE, foregoing paid support does not mean having to use a separate community edition with different software versions. With Ubuntu, you are always using the vendor-sponsored-and-tested platform.

Because Ubuntu provides a very strong desktop experience with support for a wide range of consumer hardware, it is easy to deploy in a variety of environments. At the same time, many small businesses will be adequately served by Ubuntu's typical range of server software, from Windows-compatible file and print sharing to Web serving and database support. More ambitious server packages can be installed in Ubuntu, although it may take a little more work on your end compared to turnkey enterprise distributions.

Finally, Ubuntu is particularly well-supported by its user community. Even without paid support, answers to almost every conceivable issue are available at Ubuntu Web forums, which are often oriented toward the non-expert Linux user.

In short, would Ubuntu Linux be the top choice for an enterprise running a 2,000 CPU production backend? Probably not. But for a small business with modest needs, Ubuntu can be a free, friendly, minimum-fuss solution.

Plenty of Fish in the Sea

These six Linux distributions are just the tip of the iceberg because Linux is a deep and vast ocean. In practice, though, the majority of Linux deployments, particularly in business environments, involve one of these six platforms because they address the major mix of needs between form, function and pricing. Linux is all about choice, which also means you have the choice whether to explore Linux distributions in more depth — or not.

Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com.

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This article was originally published on October 01, 2008
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