Ubuntu is the most popular distribution of Linux, an open-source operating system designed for security and stability. With Microsoft Windows and Mac OS taking the lion’s share of the operating system market share, Ubuntu makes up a small segment of computer users. Even so, it offers a suite of preinstalled software for productivity and entertainment and a dedicated community to offer support.

If you have thought about making the switch from another operating system, you may have come across Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server. Depending on your specific situation, each version offers its pros and cons. 

Before you dive into a new operating system, you should understand the features and benefits offered by each one so you can make an informed decision. Both Ubuntu desktop and server have their various advantages and drawbacks.

In today’s article, we’ll explore the difference between these two variations of Ubuntu so you can decide which is best for you.

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Ubuntu Desktop and Server both use the same Linux kernel.
  • Ubuntu Server operates via a command line interface.
  • Ubuntu Server is shipped with server-specific packages like Apache2, Samba, and Bind9.
  • Ubuntu Desktop is designed with an easy-to-use graphical user interface.
  • Ubuntu Desktop and Server operate on the same release cycle.

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Ubuntu DesktopUbuntu Server
Developed byCanonical Ltd.Canonical Ltd.
CPU Platformsx86, x64, ARM, ARM64, RISC-Vx86, x64, ARM, ARM64, RISC-V
Package ManagerGNOME, Snap StoreGNOME, Snap Store
LicenseFreeFree + some proprietary drivers
First Released20042004
Long Term Support3 years5 years
InterfaceGraphical user interface (GUI)Command line interface (CLI)

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: What’s the Difference?

The history of Ubuntu begins with the first official version of Linux in 1994. Due to the open-source nature of Linux, other developers were encouraged to collaborate and create their own versions. This led to the first official release of Ubuntu in 2004. Since the server version shares the same software repositories as Ubuntu Desktop, every release of Ubuntu is available in the server configuration as well.

Ubuntu Desktop is often the best choice for a beginner. If you are converting from Windows or Mac OS, you’ll find Ubuntu Desktop very similar. Additionally, the interface offers a similar layout and a suite of programs similar to what you get with other operating systems. 

Let’s talk about some of the most significant differences between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server.

User Interface

The first thing you will notice about Ubuntu Server is that it does not have a graphical user interface. A graphical user interface (GUI) is what you see in a typical operating system, where you are able to navigate with a mouse. A GUI is vastly superior for most users due to its ease of use. Ubuntu Desktop uses a GUI with a very similar appearance to Windows and Mac OS.

On the other hand, Ubuntu Server relies on a command line interface. A command line interface (CLI) requires you to input commands in order to navigate through your files and applications. If you are operating a server, this method of navigation can be preferred, especially for advanced users. However, most users will find the CLI offered by Ubuntu Server challenging to use.

Ubuntu server desktop Linux
Whether Ubuntu Desktop or Server is best for you depends on your specific use case and technical knowledge.

Installation Method

While Ubuntu Desktop and Server differ wildly in terms of the user interface, the installation method for both operating systems is very similar.

If you have ever installed another operating system, you’ll be pleased with how familiar the setup process remains for Ubuntu. All you need to get started is a USB flash drive or DVD to load your installer files.

Once booted from your install media, you can choose to try out or install Ubuntu. After installing the operating system, you can configure language and keyboard settings and connect to your wireless network. 

System Requirements

Another aspect where Ubuntu Desktop and Server differ is the system requirements. Ubuntu Desktop has higher requirements for your hardware. The main reason behind this is that the GUI used in Ubuntu Desktop is more resource-intensive than the CLI used in Ubuntu Server.

HardwareUbuntu DesktopUbuntu Server
Processor2GHz dual-core1GHz
RAM4GB1GB
Storage2.5GB25GB
GraphicsN/AVGA capable of 1024 x 768

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: Which is Better for Entertainment?

If your goal is to stay entertained, Ubuntu Desktop is superior to Ubuntu Server. The benefits of a graphical user interface make Ubuntu Desktop the obvious choice due to its ease of use and familiar layout. Additionally, Ubuntu Desktop comes with a suite of media applications that make it ideal for entertainment use.

Ubuntu Desktop comes with software for playing your favorite movies and music and integrations for third-party apps like MP3 players and DVD players. You can download popular games like Minecraft, Braid, and Oil Rush using the built-in Snap Store.

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: Which is Better for School?

Although most students tend to have a preference for Windows and Mac, Ubuntu can also be a reliable platform to study on. When trying to decide between Ubuntu Desktop or Server, it can be helpful to know which one is better to use for school. Since Ubuntu Server uses a command line interface, it would be challenging to use it for basic tasks like schoolwork.

Ubuntu Desktop shines in this situation thanks to its graphical user interface. Libre Office is preinstalled with Ubuntu Desktop, so you can begin working immediately. Additionally, you can also access Microsoft Office or Google Docs to use a cloud-based office program.

Overall, Ubuntu Desktop is the superior operating system if you are using your computer for school. Ubuntu Server would be unnecessarily complex for a student to use due to its complicated interface.

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: Which is Better for Business?

Business applications will run on both Ubuntu Desktop and Server, and determining the superior operating system comes down to your specific situation. Ubuntu Desktop is the wiser choice if you need to install a single computer or even a group of computers to use in an office.

Ubuntu Desktop is ideal for the majority of business tasks due to its simple design and ease of use. However, Ubuntu Server has its place, especially when it comes to data-intensive applications. As its name suggests, Ubuntu Server is designed for use in servers and data centers. If you are deploying a large number of computers and want to be able to manage them remotely, Ubuntu Server is the way to go.

Additionally, Ubuntu Server offers a longer support life-cycle. Whereas Ubuntu Desktop is typically supported for three years post-release, Ubuntu Server is supported for up to five years. If you are running mission-critical applications, having more extended support is a huge advantage.

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: Which One is Right for You?

If you are looking for an alternative operating system to use, Ubuntu is an obvious choice due to its popularity as the number one Linux distribution. The question of Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server comes down to what you plan to use your computer for.

In almost every case, Ubuntu Desktop is recommended for no reason other than the graphical user interface. Most users prefer Ubuntu Desktop because of its familiarity and similarity to Windows and Mac, whether for the home or office. However, Ubuntu Server still has some advantages.

Ubuntu Server is an excellent choice if you are building out a server or data center. A bit of technical expertise is ideal if you use Ubuntu Server since it is a command-driven interface. While command lines might be intimidating for a novice user, they can drastically speed things up for technical users.

Ubuntu Desktop vs. Server: How Do They Compare? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is Ubuntu Desktop or Server better?

Ubuntu Desktop is better if you need a simple, easy-to-use operating system. Ubuntu Server is better if you want a powerful, technically-advanced operating system.

Why is Ubuntu so popular?

Ubuntu is popular because it is a free, open-source operating system with a widely compatible kernel. Developers are able to create Ubuntu applications for nearly any platform, from smartphones and tablets to desktop computers and servers.

Does Ubuntu need antivirus?

Ubuntu does not need antivirus due to its increased security out of the box. Additionally, malware and viruses are much less common with Ubuntu. This is due to Ubuntu’s lower market share relative to other operating systems. It is simply less lucrative for a hacker to develop malware for Ubuntu.

Can Ubuntu Desktop run Microsoft Office?

Although Microsoft Office is not natively supported, you are able to run it through a third-party package manager or Windows emulator. You can also access Microsoft Online through the built-in web browser if that is too much trouble. Additionally, a pre-installed Office suite called Libre Office is offered for free with Ubuntu.

Who is Ubuntu developed by?

Ubuntu is developed by the Britain-based company, Canonical, as well as a community of open-source developers.

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