When it comes to choosing an operating system (OS) for your dedicated server, you have choices. Your most obvious choice is whether to go for a Windows OS, or to choose a Unix/Linux distribution suitable for your intended use. Here is a high level overview of some of the most popular options.
Windows Server 2003 and 2008 are both available in Standard, Enterprise, Data center and Web Editions, and 2008 also available in Foundation, HPC (high performance computing) and Itanium (64-bit processor) based editions.
Windows Servers are designed to provide a graphic user interface, and if you want to use SSH shell access to transfer data, you should install a Unix/Linux based OS instead.
FreeBSD Based on BSD UNIX®
FreeBSD is a derivation of BSD, a version of UNIX developed at the University of California. As well as being used by Nokia, Sony Japan and other technology manufacturers to power embedded platform devices, FreeBSD also powers the Yahoo! Web site. It is designed to work under high user loads, using memory efficiently and maintaining fast response times with thousands of user processes.
Linux Based Operating Systems
Red Hat Linux was originally a Linux-based OS developed by the company Red Hat. It was discontinued in 2004 in favor if the current Red Hat Enterprise Linux (REHL)OS, designed for larger commercial markets, including mainframes. One of its main advantages is its ability to be easily deployed over large networks with features including dynamic resource allocation and clustering built in. Although it is based on open source software, it is not free.
Fedora is the free branch version of Redhat that replaced the original Redhat Linux. Maintained and developed by the Fedora Project, a community of developers. The Fedora Project still works closely with Redhat, though, and much of the REHL code is based on Fedora. Fedora also offers remixing tools to enable anyone to create a “spin” of Fedora that is optimized for a specific use, such as audio mixing.
CentOS, or Community ENTerprise Operating System, like Fedora, is based on Redhat. However, where Fedora is sponsored by Redhat and feeds source code into the latest distributions, ConetOS uses the REHL source code as the basis from which to provide a free enterprise class operating system. Support is through the developer community.
Debian GNU/Linux is a free operating system that can be considered a Linux/Unix hybrid, since it uses the Linux kernel at the core of the system, but adopts most of the OS tools from the GNU project. The GNU project is currently working on a UNIX kernel, Hurd, and when this is mature, it’s possible Debian will become entirely UNIX based. One of the biggest attractions of Debian is the 25 thousand packages of precompiled software that are bundled with it ready for installation on your system.
Ubuntu is based on Debian, but unlike its parent, that offers a huge library of precompiled software with each distribution, Ubuntu has various “flavors,” including Ubuntu Server Edition. Although the basic OS is free, Ubuntu is sponsored by Canonical, which sells technical support and related services, including server deployment.
Originally based entirely on Linux, Gentoo is designed to be automatically optimized for the system it’s installed on and the applications it will run. Using Portage, users select only the components they need and create on the fly distributions over the Internet. Portage was developed from FreeBSD, and includes an Emerge utility that makes updating the entire system a one line command.