August 27, 2010, 2:52 PM — With all the many reasons to use Linux today--particularly in a business setting--it's often a relatively easy decision to give Windows the boot. What can be more difficult, however, is deciding which of the hundreds of Linux distributions out there is best for you and your business.
Judging by popularity statistics, as tracked both by Distrowatch and in a recent study at LinuxTrends, Ubuntu is clearly the most popular distribution, or "distro." There's no denying that Ubuntu has many benefits for business users; at the same time, there are many, many other possibilities, each offering its own twist on Linux.
Which one is right for you? That depends on several key factors.
If you or the other people in your office have never used Linux before, you'll probably want to stick with a distribution that's better suited to beginning users. This is one of Ubuntu's defining characteristics, but Fedora, Linux Mint, and business-friendly openSUSE can be good choices as well. Personally, I'd steer a brand-new user to either Ubuntu or Fedora.
Be sure to avoid alpha, beta and release candidate (RC) versions of the software, since they can sometimes be unstable. If, on the other hand, you consider yourself a power user, the more do-it-yourself distributions include Gentoo, Debian, Arch Linux and Slackware; or, with Linux From Scratch, you can even build your own distribution!
If your business is focused on a particular area of computing, it's worth checking out all the many niche-specific Ubuntu versions, including EduBuntu and UbuntuScience.
Each distro has its own online community, which is often the best place to get free yet comprehensive help when issues arise. Before you pick a distro, it can be a good idea to get a feel for the culture of its community by visiting the associated forums; some are innately more helpful than others.
If you're not comfortable with getting support in this way, however, you may want to purchase a commercial Linux version with tech support from a vendor. Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (formerly known as Novell Linux Desktop) are typically among the top choices in the business category of Linux distros.