Desktop distros vs server distros
Q Could you explain the main differences between a desktop and a server distro? Also, I know you wouldn't do it on a production server, but how would you go about installing a basic GUI on Ubuntu 8.10, as my command line knowledge isn't up to exploring Ubuntu Server yet?
A The main difference is in the software, and maybe the default security settings. A server uses different types of software from a desktop computer, so it normally doesn't have X or any form of desktop software, although some do. Security is more important with a server, because it is being deliberately exposed to the outside world. As a result the packages are usually more tried and tested versions, whereas Ubuntu, and other distros, often use very recent software on their desktops. As Ubuntu Server is still Ubuntu with a different set of base packages, you can still install anything you want. Adding a basic desktop is as simple as running
sudo apt-get install xfce4
to install the Xfce desktop. If you only want to experiment with various types of server, you could start with the standard desktop edition of your favourite distro and install whichever servers you want to try.
There is another alternative, to use a web-based administration tool like Webmin (www.webmin.com). This is particularly useful if you want to run a headless server (one without a keyboard or monitor). Once you have the software installed, you can use a browser from another computer (running any operating system) on your network to connect to https://hostname:10000 and perform most of the administrative tasks you need.
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