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The ultimate Linux starter kit for small business

Katherine Noyes and Dietrich Schmitz | March 14, 2013
Linux machines can save your business cold, hard cash. Here's how to pick the best OS and apps for yourself, your workers, and your IT pros.

For a price: If you must have someone to speak to when problems arise, paid support is offered by most of the big distros, including Red Hat and Ubuntu, either included or as an extra. Pay-as-you-go support plans are increasingly common as well. Then, too, there are legions of consultants. Start by searching for "Linux support" in your area. Finally, if you're already paying a systems integrator or consultancy for services in another aspect of computing, don't be afraid to ask them the occasional Linux question.


It's widely acknowledged that Linux is more secure than both Windows and Mac platforms, thanks in large part to its relatively diverse nature and the way permissions are assigned. As a result, Linux users typically don't use antivirus software. However, no system is impermeable, and another step can boost that security level even more.

Namely, you can make your users' machines "thin" clients rather than "fat" ones running all their own, stand-alone software and applications. A thin client is a computer that depends on a remote server for processing, so the only thing the local machine does itself is display the results as a graphical presentation. This process is typically enabled by the open source Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP).

The user's "thin" machine can't be infected by a virus. Plus, to a business, having data and applications secured on a central server is important and at times mandatory, in addition to the server being in a secure location.

Also worth mentioning is that there are a number of security-focused distros for added measure, including Lightweight Portable Security (LPS).

How to choose Linux for your server

If your office already has existing Windows Active Directory (AD) domain servers, your Linux server will have to be able to join the Active Directory domain and be visible across the network.

Correspondingly, client Linux workstations must be able to join any existing Windows Active Directory domain using client tools such as Likewise (now PowerBroker open). Most popular Linux servers being deployed today use distros including Debian, CentOS, Ubuntu, and Red Hat.

Red Hat and Ubuntu both provide subscription-based support, good for specialized technical help. Smaller shops may opt to use CentOS, a Red Hat clone, or simply use Ubuntu Server without any contract support and rely on their IT pro's expertise.

Ubuntu Server is perhaps the easiest to deploy. In its Long Term Support (LTS version 12.04) configuration, the OS does not receive any major upgrades during that period. Instead, to ensure minimal service interruptions, it receives only feature backports, bug fixes, and security-related updates.

Ubuntu Server's hardware requirements are conservative, with both 32- and 64-bit editions. Out of the box, its security-hardened configuration makes it ideal for setting up public (DMZ) edge servers accessible by the Internet at large.


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