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Debian vs. Ubuntu: What’s the Difference, Which One Is Better?

Arch Linux vs. Ubuntu

Debian vs. Ubuntu: What’s the Difference, Which One Is Better?

Are you looking for the best open-source operating system? You are probably aware that Linux has a range of operating system distros to choose from. Debian and Ubuntu are two commonly used Linux distros. While they may be similar, they possess some comparable features worth noting. Debian is an original distro created by Ian Murdock in 1993, while Ubuntu is a Debian-based Linux distribution developed by Mark Shuttlework in 2004.

In this article, we will look at how these two distros compare in terms of experiences, functionalities, and other aspects. With their similarities, it’s difficult choosing the best operating system between the two. So, which is one better? Let’s jump right in and find out!

Debian vs. Ubuntu: Side-By-Side Comparison

AspectDebianUbuntu
Initial release19932004
Release cycleNo fixed cycle; Stable, Testing, and Unstable branch2 years cycle; LTS and Regular branch
Desktop EnvironmentMultiple choices, from lightweight minimalist to full-featured Desktop EnvironmentGNOME shell
SoftwareFOSS onlyFOSS and proprietary software
Base OSOriginal LinuxDebian based
Packet managerapt/dpkgapt/dpkg/snap
Security mechanismAppArmorAppArmor
Hardware requirements1GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, 10GB Storage Disk2GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, 25GB Storage Disk
StabilityVery stableSlightly less stable than Debian but has regular updates

Debian vs. Ubuntu: A Quick Overview

linux distro
Debian was developed by the community-supported Debian Project.

While there is a wide range of Linux distributions, not all are independent or created from scratch. Debian is one of the few Linux-independent distros since it’s not derived from any other distro. On the other hand, Ubuntu is a Debian-based OS. This implies that it uses a similar APT packaging system as Debian and shares a good number of libraries and packages from Debian repositories. Debian infrastructure is utilized as a base.

Derived distros share the same management system and packages as the base distribution. But in the process, they also add in and change packages on their own. This brings out the difference in Ubuntu compared to Debian, despite being based on Debian.

Debian vs. Ubuntu: What’s the Difference?

Debian and Ubuntu distros have different purposes and use cases suited for different kinds of users. In this section, we’ll delve into some features that differentiate the two operating systems, highlighting their pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Installation Process

Both distros feature a GUI-based installation, but for new users, Ubuntu has a user-friendly installer which is a lot easier than Debian. Debian and Ubuntu both support hardware architectures like amd64, i386, arm64, and many more.

With the Debian installer, you get wider (but manual) configuration options as a result of the installer being based on nCurses (new curses). In contrast, Ubuntu gets the help of Ubiquity, based on Debian-installer parts, leaving you with fewer config options, thus making it easier for beginners to install.

Software and Firmware Compatibility

Both Debian and Ubuntu distributions seamlessly support various software. But in some distros, you may need some slight changes for the software to work. Debian aims at keeping everything free and open-source (FOSS) since it lacks proprietary software in its repositories. Also, the FOSS policy applies to its kernel due to the lack of proprietary drivers and firmware.

Although most Debian users opt to keep the system open-source, additional repositories can be installed manually. Users using proprietary hardware should manually add the proprietary drives since Debian doesn’t include any closed-source binary firmware.

In terms of functionality, Ubuntu offers open-source and proprietary software. This Linux distro provides the requirements for an off-the-shelf experience for users who require a quick setup, thanks to its large repository and driver support. Further, Ubuntu offers its PPA packaging system that allows users to add repositories and install third-party software. This leaves users with various software options.

Stability and Performance

Of the two Linux distros, Ubuntu falls short in terms of stability. Debian doesn’t have frequent upgrades, and they only occur after thorough testing by Debian’s development team to minimize bugs and unexpected performance behaviors. Therefore, Debian is often the considered operating system for servers. Ubuntu, on the other hand, has regular updates, and users who prefer working on newer software find it more appealing.

When it comes to performance, both distros perform equally well. But, it highly depends on the system’s hardware and the software component used. However, Debian doesn’t provide any prepacked or bundled package without any software or additional attributes. Debian is considered super lightweight, and when fewer resources are required to run, it releases more resources to be used by other running processes and software, making it a faster distro. Comparatively, Ubuntu offers various features and functionalities, adding weight and resulting in slower performance. However, Ubuntu performs faster than other Operating Systems like Windows or macOS.

Off-The-Shelf Support

As stated earlier, Debian primarily focuses on free and open-source software (FOSS). This implies that the kernel provided by Debian doesn’t offer proprietary drivers and firmware. For it to work, you’ll need to enable or add extra repositories and manually install it. To most new users, this turns out to be a challenge.

In contrast, Ubuntu provides drivers and firmware out of the box, making it better than Debian. This makes Ubuntu user-friendly for beginners due to a more complete off-the-shelf experience.

Desktop Environment

Instead of Debian having a default desktop environment, you choose your preferred desktop interface during installation. The options, however, range from lightweight window managers to fully featured desktop environments. Debian’s desktop environment is super lightweight compared to that of Ubuntu. The lightweight nature is crucial during the distro setup involving older hardware.

Ubuntu, on the other hand, uses an off-the-shelf interface installed by default. Ubuntu features a user-friendly desktop version that is highly intuitive. While Ubuntu versions 17.10 and younger use the GNOME Shell desktop environment, the older Ubuntu releases utilize Unity. However, the predefined option doesn’t limit users from using alternative desktop environments (DE). Other Graphical User Interfaces, such as Xubuntu for Xfce or Kubuntu for KDE, can be installed in Ubuntu alongside an existing setup. To manually configure and edit anything, including the desktop environment, switch to “expert mode” during installation.

Security

In terms of security, both distros feature an in-built security and patching system for any threats and vulnerabilities. However, Debian has a more strict policy. Unlike Ubuntu, Debian does not offer an access control management system for firewall protection. In comparison, Ubuntu allows users to use both AppArmor and the firewall. In addition, it is easy to complete security settings in Ubuntu, thanks to its user-friendly interface.

Community and Support

Debian is a community-based project. This means the community members govern maintenance and other activities. On the other hand, Ubuntu is run and published by Canonical — which works with hardware manufacturers and software vendors to offer commercial services and solutions to Ubuntu. Therefore, though Ubuntu has a community, any final decisions must get approval from Canonical. Canonical offers Ubuntu and other enterprise clients professional support at a fee, a feature not available with Debian.

Pros and Cons of Debian

ProsCons
It’s community-driven since it’s maintained and managed by the communityNo enterprise version is available
Features a wider range of repositories than any other Linux distroHas a basic GUI, thus most tasks are done through the terminal
It’s a free open-source OSIt requires some level of expertise to use, thus not friendly for Linux beginners
Supports more hardware architectures like amd64, arm63, PowerPC, and many moreIt doesn’t have a fixed release cycle as compared to other Linux distros
It’s more secure due to its security-centered features.It has no PPA (Personal Package Archive)

Pros and Cons of Ubuntu

ProsCons
It has a user-friendly interface thus well-suited for beginnersIt’s not community-based, skilled and experienced developers are sometimes hired to work on the OS
It can run on various devices and VMs due to its customizable featuresIt’s slightly less stable than Debian as the frequent releases are not tested, thus leading to unexpected performance
It has a regular release update cycleIt’s available in both free and proprietary software, hence not as free as Debian
Requires fewer resources to run and install, hence suitable for lower specification systems
Easy to update
Used for both personal and enterprise solutions
Ubuntu server desktop Linux
Ubuntu is officially released in three editions: Desktop, Server, and Core.

Debian vs. Ubuntu: Must-Know Facts

  • Both Debian and Ubuntu are open-source Linux distros, but Debian is based on community support, whereas Ubuntu is managed and run by Canonical corporate. 
  • Ubuntu features two kinds of releases, LTS and Regular, which occurs at an interval of 2 years period, whereas Debian has no fixed cycle, but has three different releases, Stable, Testing, and Unstable.
  • Debian is an independent distro since it’s not derived from any other distribution, whereas Ubuntu is a Debian-based operating system.
  • Debian is a faster distro as its super lightweight compared to Ubuntu, which offers more features and functionalities, resulting in slower performance.
  • Compared to Ubuntu, Debian offers more support for hardware architectures like amd64, arm63, PowerPC, and many more.
  • Unlike Debian, which requires more manual configuration settings, Ubuntu has a user-friendly interface, thus well-suited for beginners.
  • Debian is a more stable operating system, and no regular updates occur to avoid bugs and unexpected performance.

Debian vs. Ubuntu: Which One Is Better? 

There are several Linux distros available, but Debian and Ubuntu are the most popular. So, which one should you use? While both are excellent open-source Linux distros, making the ultimate choice depends on your specific needs and preferences as well as the intended use case.

However, Ubuntu is considered user-friendly, making it well-suited for novice Linux users, while Debian is better suited for users with a certain level of expertise. Either way, Debian and Ubuntu are great operating systems that can be utilized by just about anyone. In this article, we have mentioned various comparable features between Debian and Ubuntu to help you make an informed choice. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Debian?

Debian is a free and open-source operating system that serves as the foundation for various Linux distributions. It is known for its stability, security, and adherence to free software principles.

What is Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is a popular Linux distribution based on Debian. It aims to provide a user-friendly and accessible operating system for both desktop and server environments. Ubuntu builds upon Debian’s foundation and adds its own features and optimizations.

Can I switch from Debian to Ubuntu or vice versa?

Yes, it is possible to switch between Debian and Ubuntu, although it may require some effort and caution. Since Ubuntu is based on Debian, there are similarities in their package management systems and overall structure. However, due to differences in default configurations and software availability, a transition may involve reinstalling the operating system or performing a careful migration process.

Can I use the same software on Debian and Ubuntu?

In most cases, software developed for Debian can also run on Ubuntu without issues. However, there may be slight differences in package versions and dependencies due to variations in release cycles and software repositories. It is recommended to consult the official documentation and package repositories of each distribution to ensure compatibility.

Can I contribute to Debian or Ubuntu's development?

Yes, both Debian and Ubuntu welcome contributions from the community. Debian, being entirely community-driven, relies on volunteer contributions for its development and maintenance. Ubuntu encourages community participation and offers various avenues for involvement, including bug reporting, documentation, packaging, and code contributions.

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