Updated by Christian Cawley on April 10th, 2017
With so many Linux operating systems to choose from, it can be very difficult for an open source computing newcomer to make their mind up. Fortunately, some Linux flavors are more popular than others…
If you haven’t noticed yet, there are only three distributions mentioned in the title, while thousands of Linux distributions are available. Instead of sifting through all of them, we’re only going to look at the top three players on the Debian side of Linux (the other side being Fedora/Red Hat/openSUSE). Those are Debian itself, Ubuntu, and Linux Mint.
As the name would suggest, Debian is the mother of the entire Debian family. Anything that is considered to be in the family is based on Debian itself or one of its descendants. 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 the team finally feel confident that they’ve met their goals for the whole release, they let it out into the wild. Debian also has a large repository of packages to choose from. So while very stable and secure, packages can be a little old, especially later on in the release cycle.
The mainstream Linux operating system, Ubuntu, meanwhile, is designed to include a combination of new and stable features. Ubuntu is based on Debian, and tries to make the distribution more user-friendly with more convenient features. Such features include the Ubuntu Software Center, so successful that it has been ported back to Debian. However, Ubuntu and Debian are not 100% binary compatible even though they share the same DEB format for packages. Therefore, tread carefully. 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 also make packages for Ubuntu that don’t go into the repository. Far more third party packages are made for Ubuntu than they are for Debian.
Various flavors of Ubuntu are available beyond the mainstream version. Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop environment, while Lubuntu uses LXDE. Xubuntu employs the Xfce desktop, while Ubuntu MATE ships with the MATE desktop. Each of these alternatives is designed to make the user interface more responsive; with these, Ubuntu should run on older hardware. Our comparison guide should help you out.
Note, however, that there are also specialist Ubuntu versions. Edubuntu is, as the name suggests, aimed at primary and secondary education, and is available with community support. Meanwhile, Ubuntu Studio is one of many Linux operating systems to ship with a collection of multimedia software preinstalled.
Last but not least is Linux Mint, which has long been considered the most popular Linux operating system. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu (a version is available that is based on Debian), and is binary compatible with Ubuntu. All packages meant for Ubuntu are 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 — and usable — desktop.
Sometimes the Linux Mint team also decides which desktop environment to use, which means that there are currently five different versions of Linux Mint. Linux Mint simply does what it was meant to do back when it was first created. This simple aim — to take Ubuntu and fix any usability problems — has resulted in its continued popularity. A customized desktop and codecs out of the box are also a major part of that difference.
Which Debian-based Linux Operating System Do You Use?
Despite what people may say, choosing a distribution isn’t about what’s best, but what works best for you. Recommendations can be useful, but at the end of the day it’s still your choice. To find out more, why not run these Linux operating systems as Live CDs for, or even try them out in a virtual machine? The more information you can gather to help you make your mind up, the better.
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!
Image Credit: VZ1 via Shutterstock.com