What to choose for personal use? Debian or Ubuntu, it depends on your personal preferences, support for your hardware, your system setup skills, ease of use and other key questions.
Debian and Ubuntu are the most influential distributions that ever existed. Of the 252 actively used distributions, 132 are based on Debian, including 67 on Ubuntu. Nevertheless, the use of both these distributions is very different. Therefore, making a choice of Ubuntu or Debian is not so easy.
If you’ve ever asked what the difference is between Ubuntu and Debian, most will say that Ubuntu is targeting new users, and Debian is for experts. Such formulations are partly true, but at the same time greatly exaggerated. These assumptions about Debian are based on the fact that it was founded more than 10 years ago and now there are many different tools for setting up and managing the system from which the user can choose what he likes.
Similarly, Ubuntu is considered easier to configure because of its design. But this is not entirely correct.
Despite the fact that Ubuntu is based on Debian they have a lot of differences. They differ from the installation process and the process of operation to managing the packages and the size of the community. What you know about Ubuntu and Debian can be wrong. In this article, we will try to shed some light on the difference between Debian and Ubuntu.
Differences in the installation process
Your choice may depend on the equipment used. Debian supports about 13 hardware architectures ranging from the most common 32 and 64 bit for AMD and Intel processors to ARM and PowerPC. Ubuntu also supports 32 and 64-bit versions, as separate editions of the distribution, and also works on the ARM version for tablets and smartphones.
Another aspect is installers. Ubuntu installer by default requires a minimum of actions from the user during the installation. This is done for maximum simplification and acceleration. If you have any problems, you can try installing in expert mode, which is a bit like the Debian installer.
The Debian installation program has very different priorities. Its graphical version differs from the text only with the implementation of tools and has the same features plus more comfort for those who do not like text mode.
Debian can be installed by following the instructions and selecting the default settings, but you can also greatly personalize the system during installation. Instead of targeting inexperienced users, the Debian installer is designed for all user levels at the same time. You are unlikely to find a more flexible installation program.
Differences in administration and package management
Not surprisingly, Debian and Ubuntu use a superuser account for administration and a regular account for day-to-day use of the system. But the chosen security models are a noticeable difference to Debian from ubuntu.
In Debian, all administrative actions are performed, as a rule, directly under the superuser account. This, though, increases the speed of work, but reduces the level of security and requires special attention from the user. In Ubuntu, the superuser login is disabled, and the sudo utility is used to obtain the privileges.
There are three main package repositories in Debian: test (Testing), stable (Stable) and unstable (Unstable). All new packages are initially in the test repository, and after the testing and testing are translated into a stable one. With each official release, the packages from the Testing repository are transferred to the Stable repository.
Over the past few years, several more official and unofficial repositories have been added: Backports, Experimental, Security, Old Stable, and Update. Nevertheless, in most cases, it is better to use only three basic ones.
One of the interesting features of Debian is that you need to choose one of two extremes: stable stability with older versions of programs or new but not very reliable software that can lead to serious failures on updates.
Ubuntu also takes its packages from a test or unstable Debian repository. Unlike Debian, Ubuntu repositories are organized a little differently. In the Main repository are packages supported by Canonical, in the Universe repository – software maintained by the community, Restricted – contains proprietary drivers, and Multiverse software with non-free licenses.
Another difference is that Debian is more oriented towards free software. By default, only free software is installed. Even the kernel comes free from third-party firmware vendors. If you need non-free programs, you need to add the Nonfree and Contrib sections for each repository.
In Ubuntu, the difference between free and proprietary programs is not so clearly delineated. Debian encourages the use of free software but presents the user with a choice. Ubuntu calls for installing software from hardware manufacturers to have the same performance as commercial systems. You can get the same performance in Debian, where the choice between free and non-free software will be more clear.
Differences in the environment of the desktop
By default, Ubuntu and Debian use different desktop environments. Ubuntu uses the default Unity, the desktop shell from Canonical – the corporate sponsor of Ubuntu, which supports its development for many years. If Canonical succeeds in conquering the mobile device market, perhaps in the future you will be able to use Unity also on smartphones and tablets.
However, both Ubuntu and Debian support several desktop environments. Ubuntu is distributed in several editions: Xubuntu, with the Xfce desktop, Kubuntu – with KDE there is also Ubuntu GNOME and Ubuntu for tablets.
In Debian, you can select the same environments, but they do not develop so remotely from the standard Debian.
With the exception of Unity, all programs written for Ubuntu are also available for Debian. The reverse is true – all the programs written for Debian – work in Ubuntu, as its packages are taken from the Debian repositories. In Debian, the development cycle is much slower, so in Ubuntu, there is always fresh software, but Debian is better tested and more stable.
Comment. Do not assume that the common origin of the packages makes them cross-compatible for Ubuntu and Debian. About 20% of all Ubuntu packages are incompatible with Debian because of the different file locations.
For users who are just starting to learn Ubuntu or the Debian community can also be one of the factors of choice. Debian is known for discussing all global issues. All important changes in the system can be resolved by voting.
In recent years, Debian policy has softened. But the discussion is still a great freedom. In the past Debian was famous for its hostile environment for women. The last debate about replacing the old system of initialization on Systemd was so intense that several veteran developers resigned.
Debian still respects the democratic position. Although the project has a leader, Debian officials are more likely to resort to proposals and diplomacy than to direct orders.
Ubuntu strongly contrasts with Debian in this matter. She has a code of interaction with the community. Community Relations Manager – John Bacon literally wrote a book about the art community, makes every effort to resolve conflicts. In addition, the Ubuntu Technical Council and the Public Council have re-elected annually.
But democratic at first glance, Ubuntu is not at all what it seems. The project manager is Mark Shuttleworth, and his voice is decisive for realizing those or other changes. Mark and other developers at Canonical have the right to veto the community’s decision, and this has previously caused a lot of outrage.
So what to choose?
Expert or novice? Free software or proprietary? Ease of use or full control? Platform support? Unity or GNOME? Controlled but polite community or sharp, but democratic?
As you can see, choosing Debian or Ubuntu will depend on what’s more important to you. Before choosing one of them, decide which aspect is more important for you. The difference between Debian and Ubuntu has been discussed in this article and now you know what to focus on.
Regardless of which distribution you choose, remember that Ubuntu and Debian are not just the most popular distributions.