Best Linux distro for small business of 2024

The best Linux distros for small businesses provide a simple, secure and stable platform to power your SMB servers and more.

Best Linux distro for small business: quick menu

Linux has become increasingly friendly for use by individuals and businesses, partly as an attempt to lure users away from Windows, but also because Linux has come to power not just the wider internet but also most cloud services.

This means while Linux may seem like an intimidating option at first, it could actually be helpful in the longer run for those who need to develop their wider IT skills without proving so much of a challenge as initially feared.

As Linux is free it means you don't have to worry about licensing fees, and there are a number of virtual machine software platforms that will allow you to install different Linux (or other operating systems) on your existing computer. In fact, Windows 11 can now run most Linux programs via WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux). 

However, if you would prefer to avoid virtual machines you could instead use an older desktop PC and simply install a Linux distro as the main operating system. Most Linux distros have low resource needs, but do watch out that any hardware drivers you need are provided.

So what's the best choice for your small business? We've tested these distros with a few criteria in mind. We looked at how stable they are and their uptime. We considered how easy they are to deploy, configure, and manage. We also considered the distro’s support provision, among other aspects.  

Here therefore are the options we think are best Linux distros for small business users.

We've also featured these Linux guides:

The best Linux distros for small business of 2024 in full:

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Best overall

(Image credit: Debian)

1. Debian

Best overall for small business

Reasons to buy

Stable and reliable
Vast software repository
Excellent Community Support

Reasons to avoid

Doesn't have latest versions of packages 

Debian was first developed in 1993 and is one of the most popular and widely used Linux distros today. 

This is partly due to its famous reputation for stability. All packages are thoroughly tested by the Debian community, whereupon they move from the "testing" to the "stable" version. This process can take years but makes for very reliable server software. The community also continues to quality-test "stable" versions and provide updates for 3-5 years after release.

There are currently over 59,000 "stable" software packages, so it's likely Debian can perform any operations your business server needs. 

If you want to install newer software versions though, you'll need to use the "unstable"/"testing" versions of Debian or manually add other sources. 

Best interface

(Image credit: ClearOS)

2. ClearOS

Best Linux distro with a full web interface

Reasons to buy

Graphical administration interface
Ample documentation
Commercial support options

Reasons to avoid

Lack of up-to-date documentation

ClearOS is a CentOS-based distro that’s designed as an alternative to commercial options like Red Hat Enterprise Server or Windows Small Business Server. There are several editions of ClearOS including a community-supported edition that is offered as a no-cost free download.  

You can use the community edition of ClearOS to roll out all kinds of network services including a content filter, firewall, an intrusion detection system, a bandwidth manager, domain controller, mail server, and more. Additionally you can also purchase additional server functionalities from its marketplace.

The community edition contains untested code and participates in updates testing. This means if you choose this version your server software may not be as stable as with the "Home" or "Business" editions. 

The best thing about ClearOS is its ease of deployment. You can use the distro to rollout complex network servers and services from a web-based management interface. 

Not only is the interface intuitive to use, it’s designed to help you conduct regular maintenance and administration tasks with a few clicks. Still, the project has ample documentation and in fact you can access module-specific help from within the administration interface itself.

Best for servers

(Image credit: Univention)

3. Univention Corporate Server

Best for supported servers

Reasons to buy

Lots of servers
Online demo
Virtual images

Based on Debian, Univention Corporate Server (UCS) too offers the convenience of an easy-to-use web-based administration panel to easily deploy and manage servers, without dropping down to the command-line. However, unlike the other distros, where possible, UCS uses Docker containers to deploy the different servers and services.

UCS also provides a pretty comprehensive list of servers, boasting of supporting over 90  different modules separated into over a dozen categories, such as identity management, infrastructure, collaboration and groupware, security, virtualization, and more. Thanks to its comprehensive nature, you’ll have to spend some time familiarizing yourself with its peculiarities. However, the distro has ample documentation and videos to ease the process.

The distro is available in multiple editions including a freely available Core edition, which doesn’t differ from the paid editions in terms of features. The paid editions however include support and other benefits. In addition to an installable image, UCS also provides the choice of pre-installed images for VMWare, VirtualBox, Hyper-V and KVM for easier deployment. 

Best for networks

(Image credit: Zentyal)

4. Zentyal

Great Linux distro for rolling out pre-configured servers

Reasons to buy

Appealing interface
Free and paid editions
Optional certified training

Reasons to avoid

Relatively limited compared to rivals

Zentyal is in the same league as ClearOS and Univention, in that it allows you to rollout and administer services across your network from the convenience of a graphical interface, although its offering isn’t as wide as some of its peers.  

Zentyal is based on Ubuntu Server. The latest version (7.0) is based on Ubuntu LTS 20.04, so will be supported until 2025. 

If you choose a paid subscription, the cost includes upgrading to the latest version of Zentyal during your subscription. Alternatively you can download the Development Edition for free, provided you feel comfortable deploying it yourself. Zentyal can also be installed directly on top of Ubuntu Server or Desktop. 

Using the Development Edition means you're using newer versions of packages, which might make it less stable than paid versions of Zentyal. 

That said, the Development Edition ships with a wide variety of Gateway, Mail, Infrastructure, and Directory and Domain functions. Once installed, you can configure these services from the web interface itself. Zentyal’s dashboard is visually appealing and is made up of several widgets that you can reposition as per your requirements. 

Zentyal’s dashboard also provides quick links to the Documentation and other useful material for an administrator, such as Certified Training.

Read our full Zentyal review.

Best desktop

(Image credit: Ubuntu)

5. Ubuntu

Best Linux distro for small businesses wanting well-documented distros

Reasons to buy

Very well supported by community
LTS gives you long-term stability
Option of paid tech support

As the most popular desktop distribution of Linux, Ubuntu’s reputation might lead you to think that it’s best suited to home users. While Ubuntu's stability and flexibility for end users is very solid, there's also a free-to-use Ubuntu Server version to handle your backend tasks. 

One of Ubuntu's strongest features is the level of support it benefits from. The vast user base means there's a raft of technical documentation available, and its generous community has answered just about every question you might have.

Ubuntu is released twice a year in April and October. The April releases, after every two years, are tagged LTS which stands for Long Term Support, and unlike the regular release, the LTS releases are maintained for five years. 

For greater control and management, small businesses can buy a subscription to the Ubuntu Pro program. All Pro plans give you an additional five years of support and access to over 2,000 packages in Ubuntu's "Main repository (for a total of 10 years). You can also benefit from additional features such as kernel live patching, the Landscape on-prem systems management tool, and more.

A full Ubuntu Pro subscription also gives you access to both the Main and Universe repositories, allowing you to install and receive support for up to 23,000 extra packages for up to 10 years. 

Read the full Ubuntu review.

We've also featured the best Linux laptops.


How to choose the best Linux distros for small businesses for you?

Different Linux distros serve different purposes, so not every one of them will be ideal for your business needs. 

When selecting the best Linux distro for small businesses for yourself, you’ll want to ensure the distro is stable, up-time is critical. Since we are talking about small businesses here, the distro should also be easy to deploy, configure and manage. Solid support provision comes a close third. And if you’re on a budget, it’ll be helpful to choose something that’s low-priced or free.

How we test

To test and find the best Linux distros for small business, we considered numerous aspects across distros. 

We looked at their hardware requirements, how well they ran on both old and new hardware, the ease of setup, and the overall out-of-box experience. We analyzed how stable they were, whether they offered pre-configured servers, the interface and visual appeal, and their pricing. 

We looked at the documentation they offered and checked for online forums that were active. We also noted whether there was a graphical user interface and options to roll out servers from a web-based interface.

Read more on how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar.

Get in touch

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Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.

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