Generally speaking, CentOS is the distribution of choice for LAMP hosting companies for three reasons: it’s inexpensive, it’s very stable, and it’s very versatile.

First, price. CentOS is open source, so there are no licensing fees. Also, because it’s one of the most common hosting Linux distributions in play, developers tend to know it better than other options. This means that finding technicians and support is easier, bring the cost down for the hosting company.

Second, stability. CentOS is an almost perfect replica of RHEL, so it’s geared for stability down to its very core. And while RHEL was build that way to provide stability to enterprise organizations, CentOS uses it to provide stability in shared environments.

Third, versatility. The majority of shared web host customers are after a few web applications to work every single time. Things like WordPress, ecommerce, and blogging platforms need to be compatible. CentOS has a giant range of compatible programs, so it’s easier for customers to get hosted and start their websites in whatever program they’re comfortable in.

With so much Linux hosting saturating the market, it’d be easy to assume that Windows hosting is a thing of the past. But that’s not the case. First, windows hosting supports some tools that Linux-based servers do not. Specifically, ASP, ASP.NET, and MS SQL. Windows hosting is also going to be a good option if you have legacy IBM systems or applications. However, like all licensed software, costs add up fast, which is a huge reason why LAMP hosts are now pretty much standard practice.

Linux is an open source OS based on UNIX, which means that it’s free, readily available, and relatively easy to edit, customize and tweak to your liking. The result is that a lot of different people use it for a lot of different things. The various Linux distributions (sometimes called distros) are simply different manifestations based on unique demands by various tinkerers. There’s also a huge amount of borrowing and overlap within the different distributions, so it pays to think of them as iterations on each other rather than entirely new and distinct products. For example, CentOS is largely based on RHEL, despite the fact that they are seen as two different OS options.

CentOS can run all the most common web applications that most customers would want. With regards to CMS/CRM, CentOS supports WordPress, Drupal, Jooma, Elgg, Zurmo, and Ghost, among others. With regards to frameworks, it supports Django, Node.js, Grails, Pylons, and TurboGears. It also supports common bug tracking, and ecommerce software.

The short answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ The longer answer is absolutely you can. CentOS supports a huge range of ecommerce shopping carts from all over, including PrestaShop, OS Shopping Cart, Agora, Cube, and Zen Shopping Cart, as well as CS-Cart. Basically, no matter what cart you want to use, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Generally it’s safest to stick to what your service provider knows well, which is probably going to be CentOS. However, if you’re ready to strike out on your own or for whatever reason CentOS isn’t going to work for you, then Ubuntu is an excellent secondary choice. It has ample support for a lot of web applications, a vibrant development community, and a reputation for being easy to use. It’s also free. And while their constant updates do expose you to bugs that you might not have the expertise to deal with, they periodically release a Lon Term Support (LTS) update, which will keep your servers relatively up to date but mitigate your risk of bugs substantially.

Of the big Linux distributions Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is one of the only ones that’s not open source. Why? Because they target enterprise-level businesses with enterprise-level solutions, and are the OS of choice for a lot of enterprise applications. Because of that, RHEL is more stable and more secure then open source software, since enterprises need more guarantees then small and medium sized businesses. Users of RHEL also get better support than any of the open source options. However, it comea at a cost – one RHEL license for 1 physical node runs your $799 per year. 

However, while RHEL isn’t free, they definitely contribute to the open source community. CentOS is essentially a copy of RHEL, minus the paid parts and the additional support. Likewise RHEL runs Fedora, an open source server OS that’s focused on being on the cutting edge of development.