Debian and Ubuntu are two of the most popular Linux distros. They both have similarities and differences that we’ll compare in this article. They are used for different purposes, for different use cases, and by different users. We’ll explore everything and help you learn everything you need to know about Debian vs Ubuntu.

Quick Comparison of Debian and Ubuntu

Here’s a quick overview/comparison table of Debian vs Ubuntu:

COMPARISONDEBIANdebianUBUNTUubuntu
Desktop EnvironmentMultiple choicesGNOME
Release Cycles and SupportUnscheduled release every ~2 years. 5 years of LTS supportStandard, scheduled release every 6 months. 5 years of LTS support. +5 extra years with Ubuntu Advantage
OriginCreated in 1993. Original distroCreated in 2004. Based on Debian
SoftwareFOSS onlyFOSS and proprietary software
Run byThe communityA corporation (main) and the community
Old Hardware SupportSupports 32-bit, has a lightweight desktop environmentDoesn’t support 32-bit, doesn’t have a lightweight desktop environment.
Hardware Requirements1 GHz CPU, 2 GB RAM, 10 GB Disk2 GHz CPU, 4 GB RAM, 25 GB Disk
PerformanceFasterFast
InstallationMore options, more configurationsEasier for beginners, fewer options and configurations
Target groupExperienced usersBeginners
Community & PopularityLess popular, more dedicated communityMore popular, less dedicated community

Release Cycle

Debian has three types of releases: StableTesting, and Unstable

The stable version is the main, up-to-date version, that includes five years of support (3 years of Debian security team support + 2 years of Debian LTS team support). Although it doesn’t have a fixed release cycle, stable versions usually come out every two years. The latest published stable branch is version 11, codenamed Bullseye.

The testing version is the next stable branch in its development state. It includes the latest features and updated software, appealing to users who want to test out the latest updates. However, the testing release does not have permanent security support.

Unstable releases have the latest software packages and features, which have not been fully tested yet. As they include active development, they have the potential to break.

Ubuntu has two types of releases: LTS and regular.

Long-Term Support (LTS) versions are published every two years and receive five years of support. After that, users can subscribe to Extended Security Maintenance (ESM) which provides an additional five years of security maintenance for the Ubuntu base OS.

Regular branches are released every six months and include nine months of support. They have the latest software packages, features, and applications.

At the time of writing, the latest Ubuntu LTS version is 20.04, Focal Fossa, released in April 2020 and supported until April 2025. 

Stability

Debian is known for its stability and has a slight upper hand over Ubuntu. Debian is only upgraded after new features have been thoroughly tested and accepted by Debian’s development team so the chances of unexpected behavior and bugs are minimal.

For this reason, Debian is often the preferred OS for servers. On the other hand, such stability also entails utilizing slightly outdated software. Although this is not an issue for servers, users that prefer working on newer software releases may find Ubuntu more appealing. 

Desktop Environment

Debian does not have a default desktop environment. Instead, the installer asks you to choose a desktop interface of your preference during the installation process. The options range from lightweight minimalist window managers to full-featured desktop environments. 

Its main advantage is that the Debian desktop environment is more lightweight than Ubuntu, and this characteristic is essential when setting up a distro on older hardware.

Ubuntu uses an out-of-the-box interface which is installed by default. Its desktop version is regarded as highly intuitive and user-friendly. Older Ubuntu releases use Unity, while versions 17.10 and younger utilize the GNOME Shell desktop environment. 

Still, the predefined option does not restrict users from using alternative environments. You can install other Ubuntu GUIs (such as Xubuntu for Xfce or Kubuntu for KDE) on top of the existing setup. Switch to “expert mode” during installation to configure and edit everything manually, including the DE.

Platform Support

Debian is available on a wide range of platforms, including 32 and 64-bit architecture, 64-bit ARM, ARMv7, ARM EABI, 64-bit little-endian MIPS, 64-bit little-endian PowerPC, and IBM System z.

Unlike Debian, Ubuntu no longer has 32-bit support. Instead, it is available on 64-bit x86 and ARM platforms. 

Development

While both are open-source, there is a significant difference between how these two distributions are developed. Debian is a community-driven project, free of centralized control. Therefore, it is maintained exclusively by community members and developed by programmers worldwide. 

Ubuntu is developed and maintained by Canonical but also has a strong community of users that contribute to its development. Although being managed by a corporation instead of a community has its limitations, it also includes a defined release cycle and official support for enterprise clients.

Software, Drives, and Firmware

By default, Debian has no proprietary software in its repositories and focuses on keeping everything FOSS – free and open-source. This policy also applies to its kernel, which has no proprietary drivers or firmware. 

Although most Debian users prefer to keep the system entirely open-source, additional repositories can be installed manually. Since Debian doesn’t include any closed-source binary firmware, users who utilize proprietary hardware must add the proprietary drives manually.

Focusing on functionality, Ubuntu offers open-source as well as proprietary software. Thanks to its large repository and drive support, this Linux distribution provides everything necessary for an out-of-the-box experience for users who prefer a quick setup. Ubuntu allows you to easily add repositories and install third-party software using PPA (Personal Package Archives), providing the user with various software options.

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