Is Ubuntu better for desktops or servers?

What is Ubuntu

Ubuntu is an operating system based on Debian GNU/Linux distribution. It is completely free and open-source. The main developer and sponsor is Canonical. Currently, Ubuntu is also developed and maintained by the community.

History of Ubuntu

Ubuntu started as a temporary fork from Debian. Debian is still a widely respected operating system but it’s criticized for infrequent updates, as well as unfriendly installation and maintenance processes. These kinds of characteristics are typically preferred when choosing the OS for your server. Ubuntu was forked from Debian as an attempt to make Debian more desktop friendly.

Unlike other Debian-based distributions, Ubuntu followed Debian philosophy and generally includes free software instead of partially free. Ubuntu uses APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) from Debian to manage the packages. Ubuntu Foundation was founded on 8 July 2005 by Canonical, which means it became an independent operating system. Canonical initially funded US $10 million.


What is Packagecloud?

Packagecloud is a cloud-based service for distributing software packages to your machines and environments. Packagecloud enables users to store all of the packages required by their organization, regardless of OS or programming language, and repeatedly distribute them to their destination machines.

This enables users to efficiently, reliably, and securely set up and update machines without owning any of the infrastructures that is typically required to do that.

Check out the Packagecloud free trial to see how easy it is to distribute packages throughout your entire organization. Never worry about the scaling, consistency, or security of your packages again.


Ubuntu for desktops and servers

In the beginning, Ubuntu was intended for convenient desktop usage. With active server software development, users needed some such efficient and user-friendly OS like Ubuntu. Ubuntu Foundation has decided to create a separate OS for servers needs.

Nowadays, most popular operating systems provide different editions for different use cases. Usually, it is for desktops (e.g., your work device) and for servers (a place where applications can be hosted). Ubuntu has been also following this way.


Ubuntu’s editions

New versions of the distribution release every 6 months and are supported with security updates every 9 months. Also, once every 2 years, Ubuntu releases LTS (long-term support) version, which offers support for 5 years. Ubuntu delivers in three editions: Desktop, Server, and Core.



The desktop edition is designed for working stations. It provides a graphical user interface to interact with the system using GNOME. This edition is suitable for home or office usage.



Conversely, the Server edition does not include GUI and was intended for servers.



The third Core edition is a “smaller version” of Ubuntu for embedded systems, IoT, and for devices that do not rely on huge capabilities.

All these editions are free to download and use.

Ubuntu Desktop and Server: similarities and differences

Let’s discuss the differences and similarities of Ubuntu desktop and Ubuntu Server editions. As mentioned above, the first notable difference between the two is GUI availability on Desktop, while Server only offers CLI. The reason for GUI’s absence is for the prevention of resources overhead, which is not appropriate for server use cases. Nothing forbids you to install the GNOME on the Server edition, but it is not recommended and probably useless.

The second difference is pre-installed applications. The Desktop edition has a GUI and it originally was developed as a user-friendly operating system. For these reasons, it includes basic applications such as files explorer, web browser, office tools, media codecs, drivers for different peripheral devices, etc. In contrast, the Server edition does not provide such a rich collection of applied software and is more oriented to service packages.

The third difference between Ubuntu Desktop and Server editions is the installation process. Unlike Ubuntu Desktop, which comes with a GUI and makes use of the mouse, the Ubuntu Server installation process is menu and text-driven. Also, Ubuntu Server allows you to set up LVM (Logical Volume Management) during installation, which the Desktop edition doesn’t support.

Basically, Ubuntu Desktop and Server are the same distribution, just with different pre-installed package selections.


Ubuntu Server performance

For the reasons described above, Ubuntu Server requires at least 2 GB of free storage while Ubuntu Desktop requires 25 GB. This advantage makes Ubuntu Server a great choice as a server operating system, which offers rich functionality of the original Ubuntu core. This makes Ubuntu Server one of the most popular OS for servers, despite the fact that Ubuntu was originally designed to be a desktop OS.


Advantages of using the same kernel

Since 26 April 2012, with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS’s (Precise Pangolin) release, Server and Desktop use the same kernel. It means you can install all the same packages on Server that you can install on Desktop and vice versa. For instance, it provides an opportunity to create the right environment to run the application on your work system like on the server.

Also, if you want to make sure you have the same packages on your servers that you have on your desktops, you can use Packagecloud. Packagecloud manages and distributes the packages for your systems, so you don’t have to worry about what’s installed where.


Ubuntu support term

Each modern server application needs high reliability of the operating system, therefore only LTS versions should be used because it provides a longer support term. Also, Ubuntu LTS versions offer an opportunity to purchase an Extended Security Maintenance subscription, which supports Ubuntu for additional 3-5 years. It is a great option for server machines.


Ubuntu’s flavors

Ubuntu has a bunch of other different editions called flavors. As stated on Ubuntu’s official page: “Ubuntu flavors offer a unique way to experience Ubuntu, each with their own choice of default applications and settings. Ubuntu flavors are backed by the full Ubuntu archive for packages and updates”. These are projects, which bring different customizations to the original Ubuntu image. Here are some popular flavors:

  • Xubuntu
  • Kubuntu
  • Lubuntu
  • Ubuntu Studio
  • Ubuntu Budgie
  • Ubuntu GNOME (default flavor)

These are official flavors, but there are also unofficial flavors. It is not illegal, it just means that it is not supported by Canonical.


What you should choose?

For desktops, you should choose a flavor that meets your personal preferences. For servers, there is a single choice — Ubuntu Server.


Should we use Ubuntu Desktop for servers at all?

No, not even close. Ubuntu offers different editions, which cover the most common user’s needs. It provides sufficient functionality for each choice. Ubuntu Desktop better suits daily usage for work or entertainment purposes, and if you need a graphical environment or multimedia applications. Ubuntu Server is the best choice for servers. If you don’t need to use GUI and are going to administrate it using SSH, this edition is what you need.


Currently, Ubuntu is a modern powerful Linux distribution, which supports a large variety of options, which makes it highly customizable. This is the reason for its solid reputation in the community. Ubuntu is a very popular choice as an operating system for servers as well as for desktops.

Packagecloud is a cloud-based service for distributing different software packages in a unified, reliable, and scalable way, without owning any infrastructure. You can keep all of the packages that need to be distributed across your organization’s machines in one repo, regardless of OS, or programming language. Then, you can efficiently distribute your packages to your devices in a secure way, without having to own any of the infrastructure involved in doing so.

This enables users to save time and money on setting up servers for hosting packages for each OS. Packagecloud allows users to set up and update machines faster and with less overhead than ever before.

Sign up for the Packagecloud free trial to get your machines set up and updated easily!

What is Ubuntu better for? Well, that answer really just depends on what you want to use it for.

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