Why Are There So Many Versions of Ubuntu? [Technology Explained]

ubuntuicon thumb   Why Are There So Many Versions of Ubuntu? [Technology Explained] It’s coming. On April 29, 2010, the latest version of Ubuntu will be ready for the public.

We talk about Ubuntu quite a bit here at MakeUseOf; most recently I discussed 7 things easier to do in Ubuntu than in Windows.  And I stick to the claims made in that article: in many ways Ubuntu is easier to use than Windows.

But in some ways Ubuntu can be downright confusing; particularly when you’re first getting started. There are many different numbered Ubuntu versions, such at 9.04, 9.10, and 10.04. And there are many downloads that play off Ubuntu, including Xubuntu and Kubuntu.


If this confuses you, you should just stick with the default download offered over at Ubuntu.com. If you want to learn more about the different Ubuntu versions, however, keep reading.

What The Numbers Mean

The first thing that might seem confusing is numbered Ubuntu versions. The most recent version of Ubuntu is 9.10, but at the end of this month comes 10.04. Many people see these seemingly random numbers and question why “9.10″ and “10.04″ aren’t simply numbered version “9″ and “10.”

There’s a very simple reason, actually: these aren’t version numbers, they’re dates. “10.04,” the Ubuntu version to be released this month, is so named because it is the fourth month of 2010 – 10.04. New versions of Ubuntu come out every six months, and the number structure always refers to the year and month of release. In October of this year, for example, will come 10.10.

And the alliterative animal names attached to the releases? Don’t let these names confuse you. They are kind of fun, so community members use them, but they’re largely intended to be used internally so don’t panic if you’re not sure what name goes with what number.

Flavors

So that’s what the numbers behind every version of Ubuntu mean, but why are there seemingly so many different names for the operating system? Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu…the list goes on and on.

Well, Ubuntu’s not alone in this regard. Windows 7, for example, has many different versions: Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate, to name a few. Ubuntu being a free operating system, however, its different versions aren’t set apart by arbitrary inclusions of features on a tiered pay scale; rather, the different versions are essentially different bundles of free software built around the Ubuntu core.

They are akin to different flavors of the same ice cream; all are delicious, but some people prefer one to another. Ubuntu seeks to cater to all those preferences, so they offer several flavors.

“Normal” Ubuntu

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When people talk about Ubuntu, they are probably referring to the project consistently released as “Ubuntu.” This operating system uses the Gnome Desktop, which is considered the most popular desktop today.

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Ubuntu is probably the best operating system for new Ubuntu users to explore, as it is the most polished and complete. If you’re not sure what you want, get this. Perhaps in time you’ll want to try another version of Ubuntu, perhaps not. Either way, Ubuntu is the place to start.

Download Ubuntu here.

Kubuntu

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Ubuntu is based on Gnome; Kubuntu is based on KDE. It’s a rough analogy, but KDE is Windows-like while Gnome has more in common with OSX; that is, Gnome is designed to be user friendly by limiting the number of (largely useless) configuration options, while KDE is designed to be as configurable as possible. Which philosophy you prefer is ultimately a matter of preference, but if you’re confused by the difference just stick with Ubuntu for now.

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Otherwise, you can get Kubuntu here.

Xubuntu

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Based on the lightweight XFCE desktop, Xubuntu is intended for use with computers too old to run Ubuntu or Kubuntu competently. In many ways you’ll find it similar to Ubuntu, just with fewer of the bells and whistles that come along with Gnome. This lack of bells and whistles can be a feature if you’re using an older computer, however, which is why you might want to try out Xubuntu.

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Download Xubuntu here.

Edubuntu

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It’s Ubuntu, but with a number of tools intended to make education easier. You’ll find educational games as well as tools for tracking progress in the classroom. Like the rest of Ubuntu, this is completely free to use on as many computers as you like, so if you work at a school, look into Edubuntu to find out how it can help your school.

Download Edubuntu here.

Netbook Remix

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It’s like “normal” Ubuntu, but tweaked for Netbooks. Ubuntu Netbook Remix features many of the programs you’re used to in Ubuntu, but made easier to use on the small screen. This is achieved by the user interface you see here and a few other tweaks (the most useful of which ensures every program opens maximized in order to best make use of the limited screen space.)

Download Ubuntu Netbook Remix here.

Server Edition

Like the name implies, this is the Ubuntu version for servers. You’ll get no GUI but you will have access to the vast Ubuntu repositories, which will give advanced users more than enough to build a killer server operating system. Consider this as for advanced users only.

Download Ubuntu Server here.

Other Official Versions

This list isn’t exhausting, of course; there are a number of other Ubuntu versions, official and unofficial alike. For information about other official distributions check here, and an exhaustive list of unofficial distributions can be found here. All are legal, of course, because Ubuntu is completely open source, meaning anyone can create their own Ubuntu version.

Conclusion

I fear this article may have added to the confusion about the different Ubuntu versions, but I hope that it’s been helpful. Like any open source project, Ubuntu can be altered to serve any purpose. Ubuntu’s been altered more than most, but that only means it’s known as a product easier adapted to any purpose. That Ubuntu itself is an adapted version of Debian only goes to further show how amazing the open souce ecosystem is.

What about you? Which Ubuntu flavor do you prefer? Are you excited about the impending release of Ubuntu 10.04? Or are you just angry because I used the words “open source” instead of the ambiguous “free software”?  Whatever your reason, if you comment I’m happy.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

44 Comments -

0 votes

Ryan T. Long

Thanks for the great, informative article, Justin. You may want to proofread it though as it appears you have some typos.

0 votes

Netchunks

Truly Informative, Ubuntu is the best Linux distro there is and all of its flavors (distros) are cool enough.

0 votes

Doc

“because it is the fourth year of 2010″ Didn’t you mean fourth month?

0 votes

Chris Honeycutt

Been using Ubuntu since 7.04. Using 64-bit Lucid beta 2 on my laptop now. I can’t wait for the final release.

0 votes

Jackson

Great article, Justin. Learnt a lot from it.

0 votes

Albert

New users should also know that you can add the other desktops to your system if you want to try them out, WITHOUT reinstalling. It takes a little time to download KDE, but once it’s installed, you can select KDE at your next login. If you don’t like it, log out and switch back to Gnome.

I agree with the server edition being for more advanced users, but regardless of your experience level, Webmin makes administration MUCH easier!

0 votes

Albert

New users should also know that you can add the other desktops to your system if you want to try them out, WITHOUT reinstalling. It takes a little time to download KDE, but once it’s installed, you can select KDE at your next login. If you don’t like it, log out and switch back to Gnome.

I agree with the server edition being for more advanced users, but regardless of your experience level, Webmin makes administration MUCH easier!

0 votes

Anonymous

Yer know I have been using Ubuntu for years, and Suse and occasionally when feeling suicidal I have a go at Fedora. This is a good article but ultimately it is just stroking the fans because imo Ubuntu although the most friendly (and most confusing) distro is still for the dedicated nutters like me prepared to butt heads with the thing making the simplest stuff work as advertised. Three days to get a remote desktop to work because a single line in a config file needed changing – I really cannot be bothered any more, Linux and especially Ubuntu has had more than enough time to make this stuff just work consistently without aggravation – and I like Linux of all flavours but there are far too many and its just a mess these days as this article proves beyond doubt.

My customers however just want Mac or Windows so until I can make real money by regularly installing and setting up Ubuntu and not spending half my life maintaining the resulting baffled customer it remains a toy for geeks and a way of getting Kudos.

Sorry Justin Ubuntu could be a contender but it is just a mess with a better reputation for ease of use than most, bigged up by journalists and tech geeks.

0 votes

MicroBuntu

I agree wholeheartedly. Getting hardware support is quite the headache. Installing programs is such a hassle with the terminal. There’s a new update version of Ubuntu in particular every 6 months. Why? There isnt huge improvements as far as I can tell, and I’ve used every distro since Hardy Heron, and by improvements I refer to hardware support; getting drivers for wireless cards, graphics, modems, print etc. Ubuntu has out of the box support for most things Intel, if you dnt have Intel hardware, you’re pretty s* out of luck. I have faith in Lucid. Can’t wait to give it a whirl. I expect countless hours to follow trying to get everything to work. i fear that like most of the Ubuntu versions I’ve used, this new one will also get pushed to the side and become a forgotten OS as I divert all attention to Windows.

Keeping my fingers crossed. Wish me luck.

0 votes

jonah8208

Yer know I have been using Ubuntu for years, and Suse and occasionally when feeling suicidal I have a go at Fedora. This is a good article but ultimately it is just stroking the fans because imo Ubuntu although the most friendly (and most confusing) distro is still for the dedicated nutters like me prepared to butt heads with the thing making the simplest stuff work as advertised. Three days to get a remote desktop to work because a single line in a config file needed changing – I really cannot be bothered any more, Linux and especially Ubuntu has had more than enough time to make this stuff just work consistently without aggravation – and I like Linux of all flavours but there are far too many and its just a mess these days as this article proves beyond doubt.

My customers however just want Mac or Windows so until I can make real money by regularly installing and setting up Ubuntu and not spending half my life maintaining the resulting baffled customer it remains a toy for geeks and a way of getting Kudos.

Sorry Justin Ubuntu could be a contender but it is just a mess with a better reputation for ease of use than most, bigged up by journalists and tech geeks.

0 votes

Eric

And then there’s Wubi, a Windows-based installer for “normal” Ubuntu.
It lets users install Ubuntu side-by-side with Windows simply and easily.

0 votes

Eric

And then there’s Wubi, a Windows-based installer for “normal” Ubuntu.
It lets users install Ubuntu side-by-side with Windows simply and easily.

0 votes

Anonymous

running Ubuntu 10.04 uptodate version, and i love it

0 votes

Anomaly

Mint seems to be the easiest to use distro now. I don’t know why Ubuntu is still the recommended distro for people new to Linux

0 votes

Ubuntuer

Timely article indeed. Ubuntu 10.04 ‘Lucid Lynx’ is going to be a rock star. Simply a lot of changes and improvements are coming to new Ubuntu and it is going to be another step in the process of linux going mainstream. I have been using Ubuntu/Linux for the past three years and I never had to look back. :-)

0 votes

caio

linux no more. really disapointed with this “holy world”. bullshit too.
“market$linux” lies.

0 votes

caio

linux no more. really disapointed with this “holy world”. bullshit too.
“market$linux” lies.

0 votes

PjAware

i hav jst started ubuntu9.10 and i m happy to switchover frm windows,but still don’t hav command over the terminal.Can anybody suggest a good site so that i can learn the various commands.
thanx in advance

0 votes

PjAware

i hav jst started ubuntu9.10 and i m happy to switchover frm windows,but still don’t hav command over the terminal.Can anybody suggest a good site so that i can learn the various commands.
thanx in advance

0 votes

cwsnyder

About your last paragraph: The [choose your adjectives] people would flame you for not using GNU/Linux and FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) as descriptions.

I use Ubuntu 9.10 with Gnome, but considering switching to Lubuntu 10.04 when the downloads are available.

0 votes

cwsnyder

About your last paragraph: The [choose your adjectives] people would flame you for not using GNU/Linux and FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) as descriptions.

I use Ubuntu 9.10 with Gnome, but considering switching to Lubuntu 10.04 when the downloads are available.

0 votes

Anonymous

Wow, That explains a lot…. Thanks for sharing… I recently updated to 10.04 beta and seems boot time got better and the overall responsiveness too…

0 votes

POCH

What makes Ubuntu great is that it can even recover Windows, which seems bent on
destroying itself, from crashes. Your piece is great too.
I just want to suggest you differentiate the Ubuntus for laptops and PCs next time.
Readers might get confused.

0 votes

POCH

What makes Ubuntu great is that it can even recover Windows, which seems bent on
destroying itself, from crashes. Your piece is great too.
I just want to suggest you differentiate the Ubuntus for laptops and PCs next time.
Readers might get confused.

0 votes

Anonymous

One more note to the “animal name”. In fact, if you list out all the names, you will notice that the first letter of the name are all in alphabetical order. So from that you can tell which n-th version you are using since it’s first release.

0 votes

Tim

Ubuntu Studio may not be an official flavor of Ubuntu, but I would like to mention it here. Ubuntu Studio is a multimedia creation flavor of Ubuntu. http://ubuntustudio.org/Thanks, Tim

0 votes

Tim

Ubuntu Studio may not be an official flavor of Ubuntu, but I would like to mention it here. Ubuntu Studio is a multimedia creation flavor of Ubuntu. http://ubuntustudio.org/

Thanks, Tim

0 votes

Anonymous

I’ve been using a version of the Ubuntu Netbook Remix called Jolicloud for some times now and I have been loving it! It’s so easy, all you have to do is download Jolicloud and run the executable file then it does everything for you and then when your computer restarts everything just works as it is.

0 votes

MetaMs

I installed UNR 9.10 on my new netbook two weeks ago. I love it! I’m a 61 year old female…so if I can do it…anyone can! Looking forward to Lucid.

0 votes

sandip ram

Yah i think help to u for this a little bit more.
So u contact me my following id.
sandipram5022@gmail.com

0 votes

JohnnySometimes

we’re all doing it rong. Ubuntu (all flavours) will save the computing world. OSX is for people who buy Foxconn hardware for 50 percent extra. Win7 will force MS to close down XP to stay in profit. At the end of XP, MS will crumble to dust … All new hardware is ridiculously overpowered … keep your old hardware working, install Ubuntu, save the planet, stop worrying about the OS and get some damned work done on your PC !!

0 votes

MicroBuntu

I agree wholeheartedly. Getting hardware support is quite the headache. Installing programs is such a hassle with the terminal. There’s a new update version of Ubuntu in particular every 6 months. Why? There isnt huge improvements as far as I can tell, and I’ve used every distro since Hardy Heron, and by improvements I refer to hardware support; getting drivers for wireless cards, graphics, modems, print etc. Ubuntu has out of the box support for most things Intel, if you dnt have Intel hardware, you’re pretty s* out of luck. I have faith in Lucid. Can’t wait to give it a whirl. I expect countless hours to follow trying to get everything to work. i fear that like most of the Ubuntu versions I’ve used, this new one will also get pushed to the side and become a forgotten OS as I divert all attention to Windows.

Keeping my fingers crossed. Wish me luck.