Debian vs Ubuntu

Debian vs Ubuntu: What’s the Difference? Which One to Use?


In this Debian vs Ubuntu review, we’ll discuss how each stacks up in terms of ease of installation, the included software, hardware compatibility, and security. 


Debian vs Ubuntu: How it All Began

Both Debian and Ubuntu are free open-source operating systems. Debian, first released in 1993, is one of the oldest Linux distributions. Ubuntu, first released in 2004, is based on a Debian snapshot. Thus they are closely related. However, some differences will influence your decision on which to use. As you’ll see, the primary difference is the ease of use. Debian is more suited for expert Linux users. Ubuntu is better suited for beginners. Let’s explore why.


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Installation Comparison

Ubuntu initially started as a set of usability improvements to Debian. Accordingly, installation is streamlined and intuitive for a beginner. Its counterpart, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired in this department. The installer uses a terminal-based programming library known as nCurses. The installer provides a lot of configuration options that can be intimidating to a beginner, which makes Debian the better choice for expert Linux users.


Debian vs Ubuntu: Included Software

Expert Linux users appreciate the extensive configuration options. Why? Software installation options. Each project embraces different philosophies on proprietary vs free software. The Debian community sees proprietary software as a last resort. So the default distribution has no proprietary software. It is a basic package that has the minimum required to get the OS running. The proprietary software is shipped in a separate repository. Developers need to manually enable it after installation. 


Ubuntu ships both free and proprietary software in the default distribution repository. This makes it easy for beginners to get started without needing to install additional software.  


Debian vs. Ubuntu: Software Repositories

PPAs are a way for developers to distribute and update their software in Ubuntu. Its counterpart doesn’t have this functionality, so the developer must host their repository if they want to provide updates. PPAs allow users of Ubuntu to install newer versions of applications that may not yet be available through the standard repositories or even at all on most distributions. 


Debian’s repositories are hosted by the open-source project, while Ubuntu’s repositories are hosted by Ubuntu’s parent company, Canonical. 


Debian vs Ubuntu: Performance

Ubuntu’s user-friendliness comes at a cost. The extra software included in the default package makes it resource-intensive. Users will need robust hardware to run it. However, the Debian distribution comes with the bare minimum required to get the system running. That said, it is lightweight and is less resource-intensive, which makes it ideal for older systems. 


Debian vs Ubuntu: Hardware Support

Debian supports a wide range of architectures. Current releases are available for x86, amd64, arm, and mips. The x86 architecture is supported by the most processors and has the most software available because it is used by most personal computers. The amd64 architecture was designed for 64-bit processors on both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and has a 64-bit kernel. It can run in 32-bit mode if a suitable kernel is installed. 


Ubuntu is available as 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x86_64) architecture. Ubuntu provides a PAE kernel for 64-bit systems. This kernel will provide better performance than a standard kernel when running 32-bit applications but will be slower than a non-PAE kernel. To use PAE, you must have a recent processor and motherboard with an Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) feature. 


Debian vs Ubuntu: Security

Debian has several security features that Ubuntu lacks. Examples include the ability for non-administrators to install additional packages, and the use of “sandboxing” technologies like AppArmor or SELinux which can limit what programs are allowed to access system resources such as peripherals or network connectivity.


This is in contrast with Ubuntu’s approach where all users have full administrative privileges by default and need not take any extra steps to restrict their rights; on these systems, it is left up to individual applications (and users) themselves if they want particular actions restricted (through file permissions, password protection etc.).Debian includes more features in regards to security than Ubuntu does.


For example, it has full support for AppArmor and a fine-grained privilege system that can make it difficult for hackers to gain complete control of the operating system if they somehow break through all other defenses.


Security Updates

Live patching, also known as “self-healing,” has been around for a long time in the Linux kernel. It was originally developed by Red Hat Systems to provide bug fixes and security updates without rebooting the system. The name comes from how it provides patches or fixes to code running on a computer while that code is still being executed (i.e., while “live”). Live patching differs from traditional means of fixing bugs in software because instead of stopping all processes and updating everything at once, it makes changes one process at a time so users can use their computers during this update period.


Ubuntu has livepatching built-in. Debian users need to install Kpatch (which isn’t free). They can also install canonical-livepatch using the Snap Store.


Debian vs Ubuntu: Releases Model

Ubuntu releases new versions every year and has a LTS (long term support) version once every two years. Every five years, the latest release reaches its end of life. On the other hand, Debian releases new versions every six months. The latest release reaches its end of life in 18 months.


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Debian vs Ubuntu: Support 

Debian is a community distribution supported by volunteers. A group of elected developers provides oversight and governance for the project. The community has its laws and structure for decision-making. Meanwhile, Ubuntu is the product of a corporation, Canonical. Although the system is open source, the company maintains full control over decision-making for the project. 


Developers that want to provide input to decision-making will find Debian a better choice. However, the upside to Ubuntu is that the company works with hardware manufacturers to certify hardware to work with Ubuntu to ensure compatibility. Another benefit is that the company sells support contracts which makes it ideal for production environments. 


Debian vs Ubuntu: The Verdict

Both platforms are capable operating systems that will meet anyone’s needs. That said, there are a few considerations. If you are a beginner, Ubuntu is the way to go. It is user-friendly enough to get started right away. Do you prefer open-source software over proprietary software? If so, Debian’s minimalistic installation will give you what you need. It is also a good choice if you need more configuration options.


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