Best OS for these requirements.
October 11, 2007 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Best *nix distro for SSH, RDC, router and print server. Or i could use windows if that would satisfy the conditions.

What is the best OS that will be good for using as a router, SSH machine, and print server? I recently purchased a server closet on wheels for my dorm room. I also got a new case for my computer to make it rack mountable. Now i am going to be buying a mediocre 1U rack server in order to satisfy some of my other needs. I would like to know what the hive-mind would recommend for such a use. It will be on nearly 24-7, needs to have SSH, be able to launch a RDC connection to other computer once in SSH, router, and would work for a password protected print server.

Wow now that i write it out that sounds like alot of qualifications. I am kind of a nix n00b so any step by step tutorials for this would be great.
posted by DJWeezy to Technology (17 answers total)
We used to use PicoBSD for a router and SSH machine. Not sure if it supports printing via CUPS or not. I'm woefully out of experience with it, since this was about 6 years ago, but I remember that once we got it working, it worked really well...
posted by fvox13 at 8:33 PM on October 11, 2007

Ubuntu is what you want.

It has the most momentum and is quickly becoming the dominant distro - in many circles it already is.

Package management is simple and there's plenty of free support and tutorials to get you started, just do a few searches.
posted by o0o0o at 8:35 PM on October 11, 2007

Response by poster: @o0o0o if i were to use Ubuntu would i use the server or desktop edition? thanks for the quick response
posted by DJWeezy at 8:46 PM on October 11, 2007

Sounds to me like you just need to run Server edition.

If for some reason you change your mind down the line, it's actually quite easy to install the base package that will make it into Desktop edition.

Desktop edition gives you the fancy GUI, which you won't need unless you want to run desktop (like Windows/OSX) style applications.
posted by o0o0o at 9:00 PM on October 11, 2007

I use Ubuntu Server 6.06 for this job (except the print server part, but that's because I don't need it, not because Ubuntu can't do it) on a 733MHz P3 with 256MB RAM, 550GB of assorted drives, and no video or keyboard. It works well and is very easy to maintain.

The main reason I'm using the Server edition instead of the desktop one is that it's got less stuff in it, so it was a much smaller download. The server kernel also timeslices less finely (100 slices per second instead of 1000) so it wastes less time switching processes, which gives it a slight performance edge over the desktop kernel on similar hardware.

The desktop kernel, and indeed the entire desktop environment, are simply more packages as far as Ubuntu is concerned, and it's super-easy to morph one Ubuntu flavour into another, or a mixture.
posted by flabdablet at 11:05 PM on October 11, 2007

Almost any mainstream distro would do. They have more in common than they are different.

Debian and its derivatives (like Ubuntu) are a good choice if you want to install it once and keep it going forever. They're very stable and maintainable. They're pretty easy to use.

As for Ubuntu (which I think is an excellent choice), Server versus Desktop: I'm inclined to say that if you have to ask, then choose Desktop. But, since you say you're "a linux n00b", then, maybe you should crack that GUI=computer mindset as much as possible, and go with Server.

That "RDC" requirement confuses me. I assume you mean some sort of tunneling, rather than use this machine as the source or destination of a remote-desktop session. If I'm wrong, then that would answer your Server/Desktop question as "Desktop".
posted by cmiller at 4:06 AM on October 12, 2007

Response by poster: basically what i do now it RDC into my computer. what i would like to do is SSH into this new computer and from there type in some command and it will RDC into another local network computer and send that to me in a new window over SSH.
posted by DJWeezy at 5:05 AM on October 12, 2007

You can do that on anything running sshd (even a custom firmware linksys router running linux) like so:
ssh -C -L 3389:remotewindowsmachine:3389 user@sshhost

Setup auth keys and you're golden.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:27 AM on October 12, 2007

My primary choice would be Debian, because it's highly optimized for use as a server; everything is accessible from the command line, so you can administer it completely via ssh, remotely.

If you'lll routinely have a monitor and a keyboard on the machine, then Ubuntu would also be a good choice; Ubuntu is based on Debian, so it has many of the same strengths, but also comes with a bunch of stuff to make a desktop user's life easier. But the extra stuff is really only useful if you have a keyboard and monitor. If you're going to just run it remotely, Debian is smaller. Their Stable distribution is extremely stable; they support their OSes for a long time, and release cycles are very slow indeed.

That said, if longevity without a rebuild is of primary, rather than secondary, importance, then you might want the Ubuntu LTS (Long-Term Support) Server edition; they guarantee very long support cycles for the LTS flavors. I think it's five years for servers. Debian supports their Stable distros for ages from the simple fact that they have tons of trouble getting things together for new releases. Ubuntu actually guarantees they'll support it for a long time, where Debian does it more or less by accident.

If long term support is a primary concern, and you don't want to spend a lot of money, Ubuntu LTS would be an excellent choice. If size is more important, and two or three years of support with an easy upgrade path is adequate, then you'd probably prefer Debian.
posted by Malor at 6:09 AM on October 12, 2007

My primary choice would be Debian, because it's highly optimized for use as a server; everything is accessible from the command line, so you can administer it completely via ssh, remotely.

@ Malor: Is that not true for every flavor of Linux?

I recommend CentOS which is essentially a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (without the support). RHEL is great for a server because each release is supported for seven years after release. Obviously, it is also very stable.
posted by doomtop at 7:17 AM on October 12, 2007

@ OP: it would be helpful if you could please clarify what you mean by "be able to launch a RDC connection to other computer once in SSH"
posted by doomtop at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2007

Debian if you want a full Linux environment. ZeroShell looks interesting if you want a simple appliance-like Linux OS.
posted by Nelson at 9:55 AM on October 12, 2007

Or i could use windows if that would satisfy the conditions.

FWIW, I used to have a beater 2000 machine running openssh under cygwin that did all of this. I just used normal windows print sharing for printer server duties. Made local accounts. It didnt do rdp just vnc tunneled through ssh, but I could ssh tunnel to anything on the LAN using that PC.

I am kind of a nix n00b so any step by step tutorials for this would be great.

I've got one word for you: webmin. Plus you can see what webmin is doing when you make changes and slowly get used to the avalanche of config files that is the unix world.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:23 AM on October 12, 2007

@ Malor: Is that not true for every flavor of Linux?

Not to the same degree. Debian is built from the ground up to be remotely administerable, and has many many many command-line administratin tools. Most RPM-based distros, at least historically, were much weaker in this area, requiring desktop interaction for best results.

I am, admittedly, rather out of date with Red Hat and Mandriva, having used Debian almost exclusively for several years, but the last time I was using them extensively, they were best administered from the desktop. (At one time, you couldn't even update SSH over an SSH connection, although I think they fixed that.) Running those distros purely from the command line was significantly more painful than it was under Debian.

Plus, you get all the goodness of .deb package management in both Debian and Ubuntu. Dependencies, mutual exclusions, and upgrades are handled extremely well in the dpkg system; RPM has always had trouble with those, to the point that I just flat don't do distro upgrades on RPM-based machines. I reinstall from scratch and restore userspace. With Debian and Ubuntu, you can just dist-upgrade... I believe you can even do this to move from Debian TO Ubuntu, although I haven't tried that myself.
posted by Malor at 1:42 PM on October 12, 2007

People keep saying Ubuntu, but I had a bad experience with LTS myself. They really aren't interested in making incremental upgrades possible, and the dapper-backporting effort wasn't quite what I was hoping for. I ended up just going back to plain-old debian. Ubuntu's strengths are as a desktop; other distros have the whole server/firewall covered better IMHO.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:36 AM on October 13, 2007

A robot made: Didn't you know what the L, T, and S stood for? Stable installations don't change unless there's a security problem.

What do you do now that you've moved back to Debian? The stable releases are about as often as LTS releases. Do you track Stable only?
posted by cmiller at 11:14 AM on October 13, 2007

It's nice to be able to reach up into Testing if there's a bug fix I want which falls below the level of critical security problem.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:22 PM on October 13, 2007

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