Most Linux distributions have a "core" type of build-option. Basically, a "core" build-option installs the bare-minimum number of packages necessary to get the OS online and reachable via management tools (like SSH). Hell, these days, even Windows Server is available in "core" configurations (that forego installation of the graphical desktop components in favor of WMI-based and other low-overhead management methods).
Once you rip the window-manager out of the equation, the distro-to-distro differences are more a matter of trading off "velocity" and "certifiability". Ubuntu (and derivatives) is especially popular from a velocity standpoint. Enterprise Linux (RHEL, CentOS, etc.) is popular from a certifiability standpoint (why it's popular with government and enterprises — particularly enterprises that are subject to "compliance" mandates like PCI/DSS, HIPAA, STIG, etc.). So, to be able to pick well, you need to figure out what your priorities are, then measure your distro-choices against those priorities. Basically, there is no perfect distribution/OS — just the one that works (sufficiently) well for your specific use-case.
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