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Debian vs Ubuntu Linux [Easy to Digest Comparison]

We know that Ubuntu Linux is based on the Debian Linux distribution and that because of that, they are similar in many ways – but which one should you use?

As usual, it depends on your own preference and skill level.

On the Desktop and the Server [Comparison]

Here is a side-by-side look at each distribution, comparing some of the differences that will matter most to the user.

Debian Ubuntu
Stable, but without the latest features Based on the Debian testing branch, newer features
A solid base operating system without anything pre-installed and minimal configuration preset User-friendly, lots of software already installed, and configuration decisions made for you
Free, open-source software only Some proprietary software like drivers and audio codecs
Maximum 3 years of support LTS (Long Term Support) releases supported for 5 years
Very lightweight as nothing comes pre-installed More bells-and-whistles, but less work to do to get it to a state ready for day-to-day use
Build a system tailor-made to your tastes, with your own software choices, desktop environment, and configuration The GNOME desktop is pre-installed along with office and media player software, configuration tools, screen savers, etc.
Tiny! It fits on small drives. Larger, you’ll need more disk space.

For servers, your choice will also have to factor in which operating systems are supported by your host. Virtual Private Server hosts tend to have better support for Ubuntu, but you may choose Debian for additional stability and security if you’re hosting on your own hardware.

You’ll also need to factor in which distributions the software you want to use supports out of the box. As Debian leans toward stability over newer features, you might find that the software you want to use (the latest version of PHP or NodeJS, for example) are not supported or have unmet dependencies on a base Debian system.

In Brief

Really, you can’t go wrong with either Ubuntu or Debian. Both offer largely the same functionality for the end-user (Ubuntu makes some choices for you upfront about the default functionality), and behave in similar ways.

If you’re having trouble choosing or understanding the differences, Ubuntu is probably more targeted at your current skill level.

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I'm Brad, and I'm nearing 20 years of experience with Linux. I've worked in just about every IT role there is before taking the leap into software development. Currently, I'm building desktop and web-based solutions with NodeJS and PHP hosted on Linux infrastructure. Visit my blog or find me on Twitter to see what I'm up to.

1 thought on “Debian vs Ubuntu Linux [Easy to Digest Comparison]”

  1. hello –
    a clarification and a correction:

    * “stable” and “unstable” in debian are meant to refer to software versions and package churn, not stability of the system. a debian “unstable” system will be a constantly changing environment but not inherently lack stability.

    * debian has an ongoing “project to extend the lifetime of all Debian stable releases to (at least) 5 years.” buster/debian 10 was released July 2019 and is expected to be supported through June 2024.


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