If you’re new to hosting a dedicated server, you might have heard about a type of operating system called Linux.  Much like Windows, Linux OS handles basic tasks like file management, networking, and running applications.

Unlike Windows, Linux is developed under an Open Source license.  Where Windows forbids users from taking apart the software to see how it works, Linux encourages users to do so. This has helped create online communities building and improving the core Linux operating system. It has also led to different distributions or variations of versions.

There are two popular distributions of Linux for web servers: Ubuntu and CentOS.

This guide will walk you the CentOS and Ubuntu, so you can choose which one you’d like for your server OS.

racks of servers with various operating systems

 Features of CentOS and Ubuntu

One key feature for CentOS and Ubuntu is that they are both free.  You can download a copy for no charge, and install it on your dedicated server.

Each version can be distributed or downloaded to a USB drive, which you can boot into without making permanent changes to your operating system.  A bootable drive allows you to take the system for a test run before you install it.

One of the central features of CentOS is reliability and stability.  Because of this, the core operating system is relatively small and lightweight compared to it’s Windows counterpart.  This helps improve speed and lowers the size that the operating system takes up on the hard disk.

Centos vs. Ubuntu For Development

CentOS also takes longer for the developers to test and approve updates. CentOS releases updates much slower than other Linux variants. However, if you have a strong business need for stability or your environment is not very tolerant to change, this can be more helpful than a faster release schedule.  Due to the lower and slower support for CentOS, some software updates are not automatically applied.  A newer version of a software application may be released, but may not make it into the official repository.  If this happens, it can leave you responsible for manually checking and installing security updates.  Less-experienced users might find this process too challenging.

Ubuntu, as an “out-of-the-box” operating system, including many different features.  There are three different versions of Ubuntu: Desktop version, which is for basic end-users; Server, web hosting over the internet or in the cloud; and Core, which is for other devices (like cars, smart TV’s, etc.)  A basic installation of Ubuntu Server should include most of the applications you need to configure your server to host files over a network.  It also adds extra software, like open-source office productivity software, as well as the latest kernel and operating system features.

Ubuntu’s focus on features and usability relies on the release of new versions every six months.  This is very helpful if you prefer to use the latest software available, but can be a liability if you have custom software that doesn’t play nicely with newer updates.

choosing a server os CentOS vs Ubuntu

Background Of Linux Red Hat

To understand where CentOS came from, it’s helpful to understand the history of Red Hat.

Red Hat was a popular Linux operating system that was created in 1994.  It was built by a company named Red Hat, who introduced two significant innovations.  The first was to set up the Red Hat Package Manager software.  Before package managers, administrators had to build software manually from the published source code.  This feature saved a lot of time and had become a central feature for most Linux distributions.

The second innovation was to offer a fee-based support program.  Administrators could pay a licensing fee, and Red Hat experts would help users solve technical issues.  In 2004, Red Hat Linux was discontinued in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which continues to this day. As part of the open source license agreement, RHEL made its source code available.  However, the primary distribution of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is fee-based and includes support.

Around the time that RHEL was implemented, a group of developers took the source code and repackaged it. They created an independent board of directors and offered a free, fully-functional operating system called CentOS. Because CentOS is based on Red Hat, and Red Hat Linux had such a strong following, CentOS is a favorite Linux distribution among experienced users.

Ubuntu has a similar history. Ubuntu is a derivative of a previous version of Linux, called Debian. Debian Linux was one of the earliest operating systems based on the Linux kernel and was launched in 1993. In contrast to Red Hat’s for-profit model, Debian managed under the GNU project.  GNU is an ideology that seeks to give freedom and control to computer users.

The first version of Ubuntu was released in 2004.  It releases predictable upgrades every six months and includes a variety of applications and user features.  The name “Ubuntu” comes from the African Nguni language, and means “humanity towards others.” In this spirit, Ubuntu Linux strives to be usable, secure, and stable right out of the box.

Ubuntu Linux is owned by Canonical Corporation, which maintains the software.  Canonical also offers fee-based support, in addition to a wide variety of free web-based support.

woman standing in front of servers

Difference Between Centos and Ubuntu Support

Where CentOS shines is in its dedication to supporting its customers. A CentOS operating system is supported for ten years from the date of release.

New operating system releases are published every two years.  This can help lower the total cost of ownership since you can stretch a single operating system cycle for a full decade.  In this case, support refers both to the ability to get help from the developers, and the developers’ commitment to patching and updating the software.

Ubuntu has a different support model.

With a new release coming out every six months, it’s not feasible to offer full support for every version. Regular releases are supported for nine months from the release date. It’s assumed that regular users will upgrade to the newest versions as they are released.

Ubuntu also releases LTS or Long-Term Support versions. These are supported for a full five years from the installation date.  These releases have ongoing patches and updates, so you can keep an LTS release installed (without needing to upgrade) for five years.

considering supporting of an operating system

Usability and Performance

Like most Linux versions, CentOS uses a package manager.  In CentOS, the package manager is called “yum,” which is a derivative of the original RPM package manager. The mechanics and the syntax (system commands that are typed into a terminal) are different from other package managers, but the overall usage is similar.

With CentOS being built around the Red Hat architecture, many old-school Linux users find it more familiar and comfortable.  CentOS is also used widely across the Internet at the server level, so using it can help improve cross-compatibility.  Also, many CentOS server utilities, such as cPanel, are built to work only in Red Hat Linux.

One flaw with CentOS is a steep learning curve.  There are fewer how-to guides and community forums available if you run into a problem.

An Ubuntu server is more focused on usability.

Where CentOS has some help and community support, Ubuntu has a solid support knowledge base.  This includes both how-to guides and tutorials, as well as an enthusiastic community forum.

Ubuntu uses the apt-get package manager, which uses a different syntax from yum. But functions are about the same.  Many of the applications that CentOS servers use, such as cPanel, have similar alternatives available for Ubuntu.  Finally, Ubuntu Linux offers a more seamless software installation process.  You can still tinker under the hood, but most commonly-used software and operating system features are included and updated automatically.

Ubuntu’s regular updates can be a liability. They can conflict with your existing software configuration.  It’s not always a good thing to use the latest technology. Sometimes it’s better to let someone else work out the bugs before you install an update!

person in front of sign with solutions to hosting

Bottom Line: Centos Or Ubuntu For Web Servers

If you’re comfortable with using the Terminal, or are familiar with Red Hat Linux, CentOS is an excellent choice for you.

Likewise, if you’re looking for fewer disruptive changes or longer support terms, you might lean towards CentOSCentOS is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a lighter, more streamlined operating system.

If you’re more of a beginner to Linux, or if you like working with the newest features, Ubuntu may be a better choice for you.

The software installation and update processes are more intuitive than Centos. Also,  there’s plenty of online help in case you get stuck.  Plus, the frequent version updates include many features that can encourage you to explore and learn more about Linux.