Debian vs Ubuntu: How Far Has Ubuntu Come in 10 Years?

Danny Stieben 15-12-2014

Ubuntu recently released 14.10 “Utopic Unicorn”, which coincides with the fact that Ubuntu is now 10 years old! The king of Linux distributions has come a long way since its inception in 2004, so it’s a good idea to go down memory lane and take a look at the journey it has gone through so far. We’ll also take a look at how it has developed differently to Debian, the distribution upon which it is based.


If you’re more interested in the practical differences to help you choose which distribution to use, check out this comparison Debian vs. Ubuntu vs. Linux Mint: Which Distribution Should You Use? Most Linux users install a Debian-based distro. But which should you choose: Debian, Ubuntu, or Linux Mint? Read More .

The Beginning

Ubuntu started out with the 4.10 “Warty Warthog” release which was essentially a replica of Debian but with a rather ugly brown theme. One of Ubuntu’s main goals back then was to make installing Linux easy. It may have been easier than Debian to install, but it certainly wasn’t easy.

It was still a text-based installer that required a bit of Linux knowledge to navigate properly. However, the young budding distro had a lot of potential with a lofty goal of making Linux available and usable for everyone. At this time, the most popular distribution was neither Ubuntu or Debian, but rather Mandrake Linux.

Increasing in Popularity

For the next several releases, things didn’t change much besides included software being shipped with newer versions. A lot of distributions looked alike in this point in time, as most had the same default setup of GNOME or KDE except for differing themes. Ubuntu was progressing with its installer, however, as it was now graphical rather than text. With some easy partitioning options to choose from, it made installing Ubuntu easier than most other distributions. I remember trying to install openSUSE and got confused by the different file systems and multiple partitions that it wanted to create. None of this madness appeared in the Ubuntu installer if I chose not to see it.

It was also during this time that Ubuntu came out with Wubi, which allowed you to install Ubuntu in a pseudo-dual-boot way. It used the Windows Boot Manager to make you pick between Windows and Ubuntu, and Ubuntu could easily be removed from the Add/Remove Programs section of the Windows Control Panel. In other words, with Wubi, Ubuntu was installed within Windows rather than in its own partition outside of Windows. While it wasn’t the best solution for long-term Ubuntu usage, it was a great way for people to try Ubuntu out on their systems without having to worry about the difficulties of performing an actual dual-boot installation and possibly removing Ubuntu from such a setup. Sadly, Wubi is no longer available on recent releases of Ubuntu.


Another change that came from Ubuntu was the start of “Long Term Support” or LTS releases. Ubuntu 6.06 was the first LTS release, which promised to be supported for much longer than any of the normal releases. This was an important step because a lot of home users didn’t want to have to upgrade their system every 6 months, and many enterprise environments definitely didn’t either. This ensured stability and support, which made Ubuntu much more attractive to adopt as an operating system.

Around this time, the state of open source drivers was not that great, so Ubuntu also added an easy-to-use application that would search for proprietary drivers and install them for you to make hardware work properly. No other distribution (besides Ubuntu derivatives) have this application, making installing drivers a breeze. It was also a slightly controversial move, as most Linux distributions avidly encouraged the use of only open source software.

Besides these relatively small changes, Ubuntu was still very much similar to Debian (except that Ubuntu was released much more often). However, change was in the air when 10.04 “Lucid Lynx” came rolling around. It came with a brand new theme (no more brown!) and also provided its own Ubuntu Software Center rather than using Gnome’s Add/Remove Software application. While this still wasn’t anything too drastic, we knew more was on the way, especially since GNOME was about to come out with GNOME Shell.

Becoming Truly Unique

While any distribution was able to add extra repositories to their systems, Ubuntu came out with Personal Package Archives, or “PPAs”. They made creating new repositories much easier, as well as adding them to systems, so it allowed developers to operate PPAs which users can add to install their software and easily keep it updated.


With 11.04, Ubuntu debuted its Unity desktop environment Ubuntu 11.04 Unity - A Big Leap Forward For Linux It's here. The newest version of Ubuntu sports an entirely new user interface: Unity. It also includes a much-improved Software Center, alongside the usual updates for the thousands of free programs Ubuntu offers. Canonical decided... Read More as a replacement for Gnome Shell, the next iteration of the Gnome desktop environment GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop Read More . This was the first major project from Ubuntu that made it unique from other distributions, especially Debian. Although Unity was received with mixed impressions, Ubuntu is continuing to use the desktop environment and plans on doing so for the foreseeable future.

Ubuntu is also working on “Ubuntu for Devices”, which is a rather terrible name for their mobile operating system Want To Try Ubuntu Touch? Here's How If you don't own a Nexus device, don't worry: you can still try out Ubuntu Touch on your Ubuntu computer. Read More . Work towards releasing their first mobile device with Ubuntu as the mobile OS is mostly done, and will first appear on Meizu phones. This is where Unity becomes important again, as they want to use the same codebase for both desktops and mobile devices.

Different, But Not Independent

Although Ubuntu has changed quite a bit and now has a lot of its own tools that it uses, one thing hasn’t changed — it still gets the majority of its packages from Debian’s unstable repositories. So while Ubuntu has been differentiating itself from Debian, it still needs Debian to exist. There’s a lot of work that Debian does that Ubuntu builds on, and no one expects Ubuntu wanting to all of Debian’s work themselves anytime soon.

That being said, the experience between Ubuntu and Debian is definitely different, so it’s important to pick the distribution that’s right for you. If you know quite a bit about Linux, and want to be on a vanilla system that will let you change whatever you want and actively promotes free (as in freedom) software, then Debian is good for you. Otherwise, it might be better to pick Ubuntu as in many respects it is the easier distribution of the two for the “common” user.


What’s your favorite feature unique to Ubuntu? What features do you see coming next? Let us know in the comments!

Related topics: Debian, Linux Distro, Ubuntu.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. HW
    January 7, 2015 at 2:48 am

    I think Ubuntu is developing a game OS with Unity. Theres "Hit the Scroll Bar Tab" and "Snag the Side Panel Snake". What fun. In fairness I really like the quad desktop choice. Terminal is awesome but I would not want to live there. Desktop managers are very important. Unity, Metro and Gnome 3 have all given me indigestation. Thought Mint was nice till I found they were tying some odd thing called "search enhancer" to it. I frequently fall back to Debian. Debian can be a little rough at times. Right after a fresh install it will give you odd errors on different things. Now using Debian XFCE and Fedora Mate.

  2. BH
    December 18, 2014 at 12:02 am

    My favorite feature in Ubuntu is the freedom to choose. I do not Like Unity but xfce-buntu is ok, not that stabile though. What I like most is linux drawing people away from MS, stimulating learning, creativity and social awareness. My roots are in COBOL, AIX, FORTRAN.... and I still remember when MSDOS exploited CP/M, MS is nasty then and now thank-you for an alternative.

  3. jelabarre
    December 17, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    My problem with Ubuntu is that they have decided to break various *nix conventions for no good reason. As an example; the intent of "runlevels" in Unix was that a different RL would start different services. Running RL 3 would give you a regular, full-running system with a text-based interface. RL5 would give you the same, but now running X11. Ubuntu decided to forever mess that up, and felt they wanted to run everything at RL2. The problem has been Ubuntu's odd, standard-breaking decisions have now become used far too widely.

    The problems with Mir are the same as with Wayland; too much emphasis on local display, and not enough support for remote display at the **application** level. "Just use VNC and export the whole display" they say. Gee, I'm doing that, I might as well be using MSWindows.

    • Dave Frandin
      December 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      Your comment about runlevels is NOT Ubuntu's fault.. its due to the fact that Ubuntu is based on Debian, and thats how Debian does it.. I'll admit when I moved from Redhat/CentOS/Fedora over to Ubuntu in 2007, I thought that was a bit weird, but you get used to it. Since I detest Unity, I use KUbuntu exclusively (and have since Ubuntu went to Unity).

  4. dragonbite
    December 16, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    "Unique" in Linux is like trying to be unique in High School, alongside everybody else!

    The Unity desktop is different, and other distributions have tried to build it but there are so many bits and pieces that it used to requires to be modified that do not co-habitate with other desktop environments that the idea has largely dropped from favor.

    I don't understand how people feel Unity is Microsoft-like compared to KDE which Windows 7+ is almost a clone if. Now Unity being Apple OS X like, that I can see.

    Ubuntu riding on the back of Debian makes me think of Google using Linux and open source, but not giving much back *cough* Google Drive for Linux? *cough*.

  5. KT
    December 16, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    I have to side with Dragonmouth on this one. When I switched from xp to Linux 0ver 8 years ago, I tried a bunch of distros and Ubunto looked weird with it's Unity GUI and had a Windows feel to it. It didn't have that totally free and open feel that my Linux friends were describing. So I got my start on Mint 7 and stuck with mint until I stumbled upon pclinuxos, first mate, then kde. I think the saying goes: Mint is Ubunto done right. I like Mint's use of the debian file system a little better than pclinuxos's rpm set up, but both are a better pick than Ubunto to me. For people that like Ubunto, I suggest trying Zorin, it's all the same guts with a better GUI and eye candy.

  6. Tormak
    December 16, 2014 at 4:17 am

    While I don't care for Unity, Kubuntu has been my distro of choice for years.... and it's not for beginners only. I've been using and programming for linux (well not much anymore) since 1997.

  7. dmerrills
    December 16, 2014 at 3:41 am

    "Sadly, Wubi is no longer available on recent releases of Ubuntu."

    hmm, I swear I read it only skipped 13.04 just last week while looking for a way to get xubuntu 14.10 on a peripherally handicapped machine.
    Gladly, as a result of my searches, I found a low ram i386 version for my daily driver and there also are smaller installers for low memory machines.

    Ubuntu may want to be the likes of Msoft and Apple, and I got over it as it has worked for me 8 years and no matter how often I hop, I always go back.
    It, um, just works...for me.
    That is all that really matters.

  8. Eddie G.
    December 16, 2014 at 3:29 am

    I use Ubuntu daily, along with Fedora Linux, and although the two are different, neither one causes me any grief. I can do what I want with either of them, even though it's different tactics....different methods. As far as I see it, ANY Linux distro is "perfect" for whomever decides to use it, if you don't like a certain distro, that's perfectly fine, but "bashing....trolling or flaming"? definitely bad form!!!

  9. Adam cralle
    December 16, 2014 at 2:09 am

    "Nix" operating systems wernt written for the average user. It was an enterprise-class OS that allows you to do more with less. Thank God that Linus Torvalds wanted it for himself because as a result the open source community has it today. If you have something negative to say about it then go buy windows because Windows was written for people that don't want to learn computers.

  10. romes
    December 16, 2014 at 12:31 am

    Linux in general haven't got any where in 10 years and never will. The average user do not want Linux.

    • rockrij
      December 16, 2014 at 9:54 am

      correct.we linux users are not average users.we are advance users,hehe!

    • IJK
      December 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      You don't say. I was under the impression that Linux was the platform of choice for things like supercomputers, high availability systems, systems in the stock market and smartphones. Yep, you are right; Linux in general hasn't got anywhere in 10 years.

    • JP
      December 30, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Linux is in your bank's servers and ATMs, your email and web host, your online purchasing, your cellphone, in the NSA and in satellites in space not to mention the cloud (server farms)
      The year of Linux has been here for a long time already and the common folk of the world are just as clueless are you are romes

  11. IJK
    December 16, 2014 at 12:18 am

    While my experience with Ubuntu is not as bad as dragonmouth's, I dislike Ubuntu just as much. Its default theme looks hideous, I despise Unity and I loathe their policy concerning the superuser. All those things can be overcome, but it is evident that Canonical allows you to do that under sufferance. I concur with dragonmouth in that Ubuntu seems to aspire to become the Microsoft of the Linux world - my way, or the highway. I keep checking it out every so often, to see if things have changed. If anything, they seem to get worse all the time: more constraining, more exclusionary, more my-way-or-the-highway. I don't see myself ever using it, and I don't recommend it to anyone. Not that it matters; those that might like will, in all likelihood, prefer Microsoft anyway.

  12. JustDave
    December 15, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    The King ?
    Because something has a higher number of users does not make it 'the best' or 'king of distro's.

    Ubuntu gives very little back to the community and nothing to the Linux kernel development.
    openSUSE, Fedora (RedHat) and Debian among others make big contributions.
    You could say Ubuntu is popular because of the bigger, wider community contributions.
    Ubuntu is riding on the back of Debian and other contributors....

  13. TomGamesAlot
    December 15, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I use Ubuntu daily on a duel-boot with Windows, been using it primarily for about four years since college.

    Ubuntu teaches rather than scolds.
    I learn how to fix broken packages, I learn bash, I learn how to manipulate and bend the OS to my will.

    That's the wonderful thing about Linux. It's very hard to break and very easy to piece together again. Windows is the exact opposite.

    • seventhreign
      December 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      Duel-Boot ..... heh. I know it probably wasnt intentional, but it makes so much more sense than you realize.

    • rockrij
      December 16, 2014 at 9:46 am

      agree with seventhreign,hehe!

  14. Rebecca
    December 15, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Not to go all meticulous on you but the software centre started in Karmic Koala.

  15. Kevin Reynolds
    December 15, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    When Microsoft dropped support for XP I needed to make a choice: Buy new hardware and software and upgrade (again) to a new version of Windows; Spend even more money and migrate to an Apple product; or, go the other way and I did. I asked System 76 to make me a basic machine with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. That was mid May, 2014, and I am very happy I made the switch. Yes, there is a learning curve but getting away from the old Windows pain really makes it worth it. For this first-time user of Linux, I am very happy with my Ubuntu desktop.

    • dragonmouth
      December 15, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      "Yes, there is a learning curve"
      There also is an "un-learning" curve in forgetting old Windows habits. I think the un-learning curve of Windows is steeper than the learning curve of Linux.

  16. lucas
    December 15, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Totally agree with previous comment

  17. scott
    December 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    I've just moved to linux mint 3 month ago as ubuntu did not like me as much as when i do a update or a fresh install i alway like ubuntu but it f+++ Itself up on update if it had a update manager like linux mint that tells you this is a untested or this may harm your computer on this update and numbers the risk factor and give the option to not install the harmful stuff without you tick the box to install maybe but until then i'm not using it as it mess it's self up i am and still a ubuntu fan because that what i started on 5 years ago but change is good . plus mint give you more useful stuff like backup software and custom your layout, do the same as ubuntu but not trying to fight you in ways it should not fight you with commands and software. still better than windows .

    • livigary
      December 16, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Try using punctuation !

  18. Dan
    December 15, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Right now I am using Linux Mint 17.1 MATE, which uses Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. There will always be naysayers, see dragonmouth's comment. And while s/he has some good points, I am not persuaded to bash Ubuntu for striving to be unique.

    Ubuntu, even by 5.10 and 6.06, was already easy enough to use by career Windows users like myself. I remember their early marketing slogan "Linux for human beings", and I agree! I've tried Linux before, but never enjoyed the experience. Ubuntu was easy to use. It made me stick with using linux, even if by dual-booting (and later via live-usb).

    I started with Ubuntu, but the experience made me venture to other distros, like Peppermint, openSUSE, Arch, FreeBSD, Zenwalk, Fedora, Mandriva, and now Linux Mint. Ubuntu was the gateway drug to the open source world. For that I will always be grateful.

    But I still think Unity sucks!

    • dragonmouth
      December 15, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      "I am not persuaded to bash Ubuntu for striving to be unique."
      I am not trying to persuade you to bash Ubuntu, I am just voicing my observations and expressing my opinion of Ubuntu. As far as "unique" goes, Arch is unique, Ubuntu is a Linux distro built to Windows specifications.

    • Jacob
      December 16, 2014 at 4:14 am


      "As far as “unique” goes, Arch is unique, Ubuntu is a Linux distro built to Windows specifications." Well if Ubuntu is the only distro built to Windows specs then that makes Ubuntu "unique" in its own way. That's the beauty of Linux, each distro IS unique.

  19. dragonmouth
    December 15, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    "What’s your favorite feature unique to Ubuntu?"
    NONE. I have disliked Ubuntu from the beginning, first for its horrid brown color schemes, then for its monolithic construction. Ultimately, I dislike *buntu because of it being "pushed" by all the pundits, bloggers and so called experts to the exclusion of all other distributions. It's as if they all were Canonical's PR flacks. And please, do not say it is "the best" distro because the term "best" is very subjective.

    Ubuntu is anti-Linux in its philosophy. Linux has always been modular and offered choices. Ubuntu is a monolith and the only choice it offers is whether to install it or not. Whatever packages are installed by default must stay installed because they all use ubuntu-minimal as a dependency. No package can be uninstalled without making the O/S inoperable.

    Ubuntu, like Windows, may be ideal for beginners. It works great when the default install is used. Once the user tries to fiddle with it, Ubuntu starts to malfunction.

    Over the years Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical have tried to become the Bill Gates and Microsoft of the Linux world. They have made Ubuntu into Windows with a Linux kernel. Just like Microsoft, they Embrace and Extend, and try to Extinguish. Luckily for the Linux users, Linux is too well entrenched and has too many independent developers for the "Extinguish" phase to work. Rather than working with already existing Linux-wide packages and sub-systems, Canonical insists on developing their own proprietary versions. Only Ubuntu and derived distros are capable of using PPAs. All other distro developers share Gnome/Mate/Cinnamon, Ubuntu insists on Unity. The entire Linux community is working with Wayland, Ubuntu insists on developing its own proprietary version.

    • ANon
      December 15, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      > No package can be uninstalled without making the O/S inoperable.

      This is incorrect.

      > Rather than working with already existing Linux-wide packages and sub-systems, Canonical insists on developing their own proprietary versions.

      Ubuntu uses Debian packages, and click packages are not proprietary.

      > Only Ubuntu and derived distros are capable of using PPAs.

      PPAs are a service to provide binaries to Ubuntu users. If your distro is capable of handling these binaries you can use it, but generally speaking using binaries built for different distros isn't a good idea.

      > All other distro developers share Gnome/Mate/Cinnamon

      No, they don't.

      > The entire Linux community is working with Wayland, Ubuntu insists on developing its own proprietary version.

      Also, incorrect. Not all Linuxes use Wayland (or will use Wayland), and Mir is not proprietary. Weren't you just flaming Ubuntu for not giving people choice and it's "monolithic construction"?

    • Rebecca
      December 15, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Ubuntu doesn't insist on Unity. I'm using it with LXDE right now. Installing alternative desktop environments takes seconds.
      You can uninstall most packages, just not all.

      It's perfectly fine not to like it, but don't go spreading rumours that simply aren't true.

    • dragonmouth
      December 15, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      "don’t go spreading rumours that simply aren’t true. "
      Not true? Try uninstalling language packs and/or video and printer drivers that you no longer need or want. Try uninstalling cowsay and fortune apps. I do not have the complete list of packages that cannot be unistalled memorized but it is quite substantial.

      I have been following Ubuntu since its doodoo brown days and install a version at least once a year in the hope that Canonical has unbundled it at least to some extent. Each install only confirms that Ubuntu is as mono;othic as ever.

    • Doc
      December 17, 2014 at 12:07 am

      If Ubuntu is "Linux built to Windows specifications," then why did they put round window control buttons on the LEFT like Mac?

    • jeb
      December 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      The unlearning curve for windows isn't really steep. It took me only 15 minutes to unlearn my windows habits