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To get back to my chevy and ford comparison there is no 'best'. RedHat and its distros are widely used by web-hosting providers as is OpenSUSE and Ubuntu. I would suggest going with CentOS, I use it for my web-hosting and find it to be very user friendly and more importantly has extensive online resources I can reference when I need to figure out how to do something. The wiki at wiki.centos.org is very indepth.
Well you actually can if you do it with VirtualBox, it is possible to run several virtual machines at the same time and you don't even have to install a guest system but just run it from the iso files that have live environment known as live CDs, that is what people download to generate the installation disk for Linux.
So get as many as you can of those iso files from the different distros(distributions) out there to try them out, there is no best way to find out which one will fit your needs best.
Distribution: Debian Sid AMD64, Raspbian Wheezy, various VMs
Try at least two, and get to know them.
Perhaps start by working out which disc you need to use to install it and why?
Whilst it is very easy nowadays to install, for example, Ubuntu and get it running that will not be enough if you plan to host other people's data.
Distribution: OpenSUSE 13.2 64bit-Gnome on ASUS U52F
Ubuntu is good. Go for it and enjoy, dont worry about cost. There is none unless you want to hire Canonical for support, which they will be happy to provide and send you a bill for it.
I dont think Ubuntu server comes with a graphical interface though so be ready to deal with the command line for a while or you can install a minimal GUI.
Post as many question as you need and do some research on your own too read the ubuntu documentation on their site. If your business depend on it you should be doing your homework too.
no installing ubuntu server is a good idea to start with, but please bear in mind that for a server edition you will be looking at a black screen with white characters on it. If you're prepared to do some work and leearn from it you'll be able to quite easily set up a place to host a few sites.
What you'd usually want is a LAMP server (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) it's just a name for all these server programs together.
If you're starting with ubuntu (it's said to be the most user friendly distribution but it's all command line linux so there isn't a lot of difference) there is a lot of support on the forums, you could look into: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/ApacheMySQLPHP
If you have any basic questions feel free to pm me, I might be able to help.
btw, it seems clear that you come from windows, asking if it's paid... most linux distributions are free or free to use, some (like debian) don't even come with software that is not free. Ubuntu is a distribution(what we call a linux edition) that is pretty commercial for a linux distro. Both the server and desktop edition are free, the things they ask money for is support and knowledge. If you want to know more about why you're not paying for use of the OS you should read some opinions about it. After that you'll probably ask yourself why you pay microsoft for something similar.
CentOS is what I recommend. Its a red-hat family distribution provided by red-hat but they do not charge for it.
I beg to differ on that. Though Cent OS is based on RHEL source packages, it is not provided by Red Hat in any way. Its a community driven enterprise grade operating system built by community and not any of the organizations.