Debian vs. Ubuntu vs. Linux Mint: Which Distribution Should You Use?

Ads by Google

linux distributionsOne 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.”

Initial Advice

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.


linux distributions
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.


list of linux distributions
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.

Ads by Google

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.

Linux Mint

linux distributions
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!

Join live MakeUseOf Groups on Grouvi App Join live Groups on Grouvi
Master the Linux Command Line
Master the Linux Command Line
120 Members
Linux for New Switchers
Linux for New Switchers
99 Members
Best Linux Apps
Best Linux Apps
90 Members
Linux Distros Talk
Linux Distros Talk
76 Members
Ads by Google
Comments (180)
  • Anonymous

    Debian is a distro that is made by geeks for geeks for geeky stuffs!
    Ubuntu is a commercial project not a complete free distro. it’s going to be the Darwin of the *nix systems ,
    Mint is for whom that they try to have a taste of linux without technical knowledge…
    you have to know how unix works if you really want to use debian like a pro.
    debian is a journey …

    • Curvian Vynes

      The linux we all love is just the same underneath. Mint just gets you up and working quicker out of the box.

      If you’re an expert or novice, doesn’t matter. If you want to get working, go for Mint.

      I use and love both Debian and Mint (and Arch and Gentoo). Dropped Ubuntu when it got released with crapware installed.

  • JustSomeOldDude

    I was using Ubuntu 14.04 for a while and i really liked it. but i noticed UNITY and associated applications starting to use up system resources, mostly just maxing out one CPU core. Flash was also starting to crash in firefox. when i tried to simplify the unity operations i ended up breaking Ubuntu. so tried Mint rebecca. So far i like it. The GNOME environment seems to be steady and uses up fewer system resources also Flash is behaving as long as hardware acceleration is disabled.

  • Hugo Heykers

    Short, but nevertheless interesting article.
    I myself use Ubuntu as the host on my (Asus) laptop, on which I also have virtualized machines in VirualBox. The original host OS from the shop was Windows 7, but on this I don’t wanna spill any more words.
    Debian I use as the overall server for our homenetwerk. I have had my doubts for long time, but finally decided to take Debian, since it seems more stable as server.
    Linux Mint I have installed on a dedicated pc as multimedia client.

  • Trent Black

    This article is typical of a linux expert. They forget when things don’t run, the typical user does not want to google for answers, and hope they find a current answers. Linux experts dream of running a terminal, while I consider a terminal requirement an incomplete program. I remember a programmer in a meeting discussing the maintenance of tables and instead of building screens signed up all the users for SQL. Plus, look in the beginning of the comments of things not working. And we have not gotten into users installing codecs.

    Mint has a lot fewer hassles for the average users, which do not have pocket protectors.

    • Danny Stieben

      Most Linux distributions which are made for the average user (such as Ubuntu and especially Linux Mint as you pointed out) work well enough where this really isn’t an issue anymore. The quality of popular software is also constantly rising, so users tend not to run into “incomplete programs” either.

      I don’t see a problem with my comparison between the different distros, so I’m not quite sure why you bring up those points.

  • Enki

    Have been using Ubuntu from 2006 and loved this disto to the moment the developers decided to go for UNITY crap. Of course you can say that I can just use classic Gnome – sure, but I want to try Mint now and tbh I think it’s gonna very similiar due to origins of it (Debian->Ubuntu->Mint). One thing which made me crazy was upgrading from distro to distro under Ubuntu, practically on every upgrade I had crashes with some packages or they were not “user friendly” compatible with my hardware and I ended with blank desktop. I hope Mint team will put more effort to make things straight forward – we will see cause I am tired of frequently appearing issues (though it may be Linux in general feature :D ) and in the same time I will stick to Debian based distro. If things stay the same I will probably jump in the end to Redhat which seems to be better optimized however I don’t have an experience in that as a (lazy) home user.

    • Danny Stieben

      I agree that the upgrade of Debian-based distros usually doesn’t go so well, even more me. I’ve had far fewer problems with Fedora. I’d recommend trying Mint first like you said, but it’s not all that hard to get into Fedora. It might take some work to get it set up so that it’s usable for anyone and not just those who live open source religiously.

Load 10 more
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
New comment

Please login to avoid entering captcha

Log In