+1 to the idea of using a virtual machine running on Windows 7 for this exercise.
VirtualBox is the easiest virtualising software to use. It has an excellent User Guide but the GUI is so intuitive you will probably never use it!
The reasons for favouring a virtual machine are:
- Fast installation from a .iso file on the host rather than from DVD.
- Ease of copy and paste from the guest into documentation (project log, sysdmin instructions etc.) on the host. Requires the VirtualBox extension pack to be installed on the host -- pretty much essential for ease of use anyway.
- Ease of backing up the guest; just copy its virtual HDD file on the host while the guest is not running.
- Ease of restoring the guest; just restore the previous virtual HDD file on the host while the guest is not running.
Speed of installation and ease of backup and restore are especially important when the sysdmin is not highly experienced at installing the specific OS and layered software and anyway the software is prototype.
+1 also to the idea of using a stable distro rather than Ubuntu.
Regards choice of distro, if you will need to ask questions of the online support community (you almost certainly will) then check out the online support community for each distro you are considering. Are useful answers given and promptly? Do you understand the answers (does the community speak your language)? Would you feel comfortable participating in that community?