One of the hardest questions that every Linux user must answer is which Linux distribution they should use. There are so many out there that it’s become quite ridiculous to a handful of users, while others enjoy the massive variety of how Linux is served. In this case, you really can be picky enough to mimic James Bond with “shaken, not stirred.”
If you haven’t noticed yet, there are only three distributions that are mentioned in the title, while there are thousands of Linux distributions in existence. Instead of sifting through all of them, we’re only going to look at the top 3 players on the Debian side of Linux (the other side being Fedora/Red Hat/openSUSE). Those, of course, being Debian itself, followed by Ubuntu and Linux Mint.
As the name would suggest, Debian is the big mother of the entire Debian family. Anything and everything that is considered to be in the Debian family is based off of Debian itself or some other distribution that is based off of Debian. In this article, we have both situations.
Debian is created by the open source community, and has two key focuses – stability and security. How do they achieve those goals? It’s actually quite simple. They let new packages come in whether they’re ready or not, and at some point they’ll freeze all packages so that no new versions come in. Then they take at least a couple months to scrutinize every package for stability and security flaws.
Once they finally feel confident that they’ve met their goals for the whole release, they let it out into the wild. It also has a large repository of packages to choose from. So while it’s very stable and secure, the packages can be a little old, especially later on in the release cycle.
Ubuntu, on the other hand, is made to include a good combination of new and stable. Ubuntu is based off of Debian, and tries to make the distribution more user-friendly through ease of use and convenient features. Some of those features include the Ubuntu Software Center, which has been ported back to Debian without the Ubuntu branding. Ubuntu and Debian are not 100% binary compatible even though they share the same .deb format for packages. Therefore, people have to be careful. Some packages can be used on both distributions, while others are specifically for one or the other.
Ubuntu gets most of its packages from Debian’s unstable branch, so Ubuntu also has a ridiculously large repository. Additionally, there are plenty of other third party sources that make packages for Ubuntu as well that don’t go into the repository. Far more third party packages are made for Ubuntu than they are for Debian.
Last but not least is Linux Mint, which has quickly climbed the ladder to one of the top spots on the “Most Popular Distributions” list. Linux Mint is based off of Ubuntu (although they also have another version that is based off of Debian, cutting out the middle man), and is binary compatible with Ubuntu, making all packages meant for Ubuntu usable in Linux Mint. While I may be oversimplifying my view of Linux Mint, it doesn’t add a whole lot to the original Ubuntu release aside from a very customized desktop.
Sometimes the Linux Mint team also decides which desktop environment to use (a previous release used GNOME 2 while Ubuntu was on Unity and other were on GNOME 3, and the current release uses GNOME 3 while Ubuntu still uses Unity). Linux Mint simply does what it was meant to do back when it was first created – to take Ubuntu and fix any usability problems that were perceived by users. A more customized desktop and codecs out of the box are a major part of that difference.
So why these long descriptions of what each Linux distribution is like? Picking a distribution isn’t about what’s termed to the the best (although there will be plenty of people who may tell you otherwise), but what works best for you. People can be nice and make recommendations instead of telling you that you have to use the most popular distribution, but at the end of the day it’s still your choice. If the descriptions I provided weren’t very helpful, you can always burn a couple of Live CDs for Ubuntu and Linux Mint, and try out Debian in a virtual machine if you don’t want to try it right away via an actual installation.
Which one out of the three Linux distributions do you prefer? Which do you prefer in general, including the RPM family and beyond? Let us know in the comments!