Ubuntu Linux is a popular, free open-source operating system available under the GPL or General Public License. In simple terms, the GPL is a “series of widely-used free software licenses that guarantee end-users the freedom to run, study, share, and modify the software.”
As described above, Ubuntu is a Linux-based operating system designed for desktop and laptop computers, servers, and smartphones. Ubuntu is based on the principles of open-source development, and it has gained popularity due to its ease of use. The Ubuntu community is built on the ideas preserved in the Ubuntu Manifesto, which is a great read for anyone interested in the history of Ubuntu.
Before we look at seven of the most popular Ubuntu flavors, let’s consider the challenge of installing the same distro across all of an organization’s computers, from servers to desktops, laptops, and even mobile devices. Many people who are considering Ubuntu at their organization will be facing this challenge.
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Ubuntu is extremely popular, and as a result many different flavors have been developed. Let’s expand on this statement by considering the seven best variants and why they exist.
Default Ubuntu (Ubuntu GNOME)
The default version of Ubuntu is available in Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server versions. The primary differences between these two versions include the following:
- Ubuntu Desktop includes the desktop environment, and it is not packaged with Ubuntu Server.
- Ubuntu Server uses a CLI interface when installing, and Ubuntu Desktop uses a GUI interface.
- Ubuntu Desktop’s default configuration is automatically customized for desktop use, while the server edition is customized for server use.
- Before version 12.04, the Ubuntu kernel was individually optimized for both versions, including their support lifecycles. From version 12.04 upwards, both editions are the same, except for their default installation configurations.
On a side note, it is essential to know that until version 11.04, the default desktop was GNOME, but until version 17.10, Unity was used. After version 17.10 they reverted to GNOME.
Ubuntu GNOME’s reason for existence or its raison d’etre is primarily because of its robustness and ease of use. The book titled “Ubuntu: Up and Running” by Robin Nixon notes that GNOME “was designed to provide a working environment with a heavy emphasis on simplicity, usability, and making things just work.”
After the Default Ubuntu flavor, Kubuntu is the second most popular flavor. First released in 2005, Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop by default.
The reason why Kubuntu is so popular is that its desktop environment is similar to that of the Windows desktop. Not only does it use a start button and taskbar just like Windows, but it also provides the highest level of customization of all Linux desktops. However, the one downside of this customization capability is that it comes at the cost of system resources. In other words, it uses a lot of system resources, so it is not a good idea to install it on an older system or a system with limited memory and CPU resources.
The Lubuntu website describes itself as a “fast and lightweight operating system with a clean and easy-to-use user interface.” It uses the LXDE desktop, it was released in 2006, and is the third most popular Ubuntu flavor.
Because of its minimalistic desktop, lightweight operating system, and light applications, it has very low hardware requirements.
Jack Wallen of Linux.com describes Ubuntu Budgie as the “new kid on the block.” It has the Budgie desktop and a modern, appealing user interface. In summary, this Ubuntu flavor offers a modern, lightweight, fast operating system with an elegant desktop interface, suitable for use on any device from an old workstation to the latest desktop or laptop. It is also not overly complicated.
Lastly, this variant was initially created by the Ubuntu community. It was only later included as an official Ubuntu flavor and released in 2016.
Xubuntu is another lightweight Ubuntu flavor. The primary difference between Xubuntu and Lubuntu is the desktop variant. Lubuntu uses LDXE while Xubuntu users Xfce, which is a fast, “lightweight desktop environment for UNIX-like operating systems.” It is not system resource-intensive and is visually appealing, user-friendly, and user efficient. For instance, users can right-click anywhere on the desktop, and the start menu will appear.
Additionally, Xubuntu is far more configurable than Lubuntu, featuring business-ready apps such as LibreOffice included in the standard installation.
This Ubuntu flavor is structured around the MATE desktop environment. In other words, its reason for existence is because there is a user requirement for the MATE desktop. Ubuntu MATE originated when Ubuntu changed its default desktop from Unity back to GNOME. However, instead of pairing the GNOME 2 desktop with the default version of Ubuntu (Ubuntu GNOME), Ubuntu decided to develop a new (or unique) version of GNOME. GNOME 2 fans did not appreciate this so they created Ubuntu MATE.
In the simplest terms, the MATE desktop is an extension of GNOME 2. Mate-desktop.com describes itself as an “intuitive and attractive desktop environment using traditional metaphors for Linux and other UNIX-like operating systems.”
As explained throughout this article, the principal difference between these Ubuntu flavors is the desktop variant packaged with the default installation. One of the intended consequences of the default desktop is either high configurability at the cost of system resource usage or an extremely lightweight, fast flavor that is low on resources.
Similarly, Ubuntu Studio uses the Xfce desktop environment. In this case, the performance specifications are higher because of this flavor’s intended functional usage. Ubuntu Studio is packaged with pre-installed video and audio tools. These tools are suitable and necessary for hobbyists and individuals wanting to create and edit audio, video, and graphics files.
Why is it essential to gain an understanding of the different Ubuntu flavors?
Each of these flavors has an individual use case, and it’s important to get the one right for you. For instance, Ubuntu Studio is ideal for people wanting to use the pre-installed audio and video tools. On the other hand, Xubuntu has a business use case - it comes with default business-ready apps like LibreOffice.
The one consideration that has not been discussed is installing Ubuntu on multiple machines. How do you keep your installations consistent among the machines in your entire organization?
Challenges can exist, and often do occur when installing Ubuntu on multiple machines. Therefore, by way of providing a solution to the challenge of installing Ubuntu on multiple machines, desktop, server, and laptop, it is a good idea to utilize a cloud-based service such as Packagecloud 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. Then, you can efficiently distribute your packages to your devices in a secure way without owning 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 overheads than ever before.
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