Ubuntu Flavors: - Types of Ubuntu Explained

This tutorial explains different types of Ubuntu flavors such as Ubuntu desktop, Ubuntu server, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu Budgie, Ubuntu Kylin, Ubuntu MATE, Ubuntu Studio, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Mythbuntu and Ubuntu GNOME in detail including differences and similarities between them.

What is the Ubuntu Flavor?

Ubuntu is a free open source operating system. It is available under the GPL license. GPL license allows us to modify, strip down, build upon, extend and embed any part of Ubuntu. It also allows us to distribute original Ubuntu with those changes or modifications. A customized or modified version of original Ubuntu is known as Ubuntu Flavor.

There two types of Ubuntu flavors; official and unofficial. The differences between official Ubuntu flavor and unofficial Ubuntu flavor are following.

  • Official flavors are customized by the same company which develops the original Ubuntu while unofficial flavors are customized by the third parties or communities.
  • Same as original Ubuntu, official flavors are also distributed under the GPL license. Unofficial flavors may or may not be available under the GPL license.
  • Official flavors are customized based on the general requirements while unofficial flavors are customized based on the particular requirements of company or community which customize them.
  • Official flavors are available to download and use for everyone. Unofficial flavors may or may not be available for everyone. The company or community, who customizes them, decides whether they will be available for everyone or not.

Official Ubuntu flavors

Official flavors are recognized and supported by the Tech Board of main Ubuntu team. These flavors are built and tested with the same standards which are used in the development of original Ubuntu. Bugs in these flavors are monitored, tracked and fixed by Ubuntu team members. Updated versions of these flavors are usually released in few days after the release of main Ubuntu.

Official Ubuntu flavors are Ubuntu GNOME, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu Budgie, Ubuntu Kylin, Ubuntu MATE, Ubuntu Studio, Xubuntu, Edubuntu and Mythbuntu.

Ubuntu flavors

In terms of hardware and software compatibility, there are no significant differences between these flavors. Almost any application which works in one flavor also works in other flavors. These flavors are different from each other in term of customization. Customization mainly involves desktop environment and specific requirements. Let’s understand both in detail.

Desktop environment

Desktop environment is the group of programs that runs on operating system and provides a Graphic User Interface (GUI) to access the system.

desktop environment

Desktop environment is also known as desktop shell. GNOME is the default desktop shell in Ubuntu. Besides GNOME, several other desktops are also available such as Unity, KDE, MATE, XFCE, etc.

There are two ways to use different desktop shell; either installs it along with the existing shell or use a different flavor of Ubuntu which uses the desired desktop shell by default.

A desktop environment typically contains several elements such as icons, windows, toolbars, folders, wallpapers, desktop widgets, etc. Because of this, even Ubuntu supports, yet installing and using multiple desktops in single system is not recommended.

If you want to use to a desktop other than default, use the flavor of Ubuntu which uses it by default. Using a dedicated flavor not only provides great user experience but also allows us to use several desktop specific applications.

Specific requirements

Original Ubuntu is designed for general purpose. Just like desktop environment, we have two choices; either customizes the original version of Ubuntu or uses already customized version of Ubuntu.

Anyone is allowed to build his or her own clone of Ubuntu with custom settings, tweaks, added extra applications and so on. So if you are an experienced user, you can customize Ubuntu on your own to meet with your specific requirements.

In this tutorial, instead of discussing how to customize the original Ubuntu, we will discuss already customized versions of Ubuntu.

Default Ubuntu

The default Ubuntu arrives in two editions Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server. Let’s understand the differences and similarities between these two versions.

Differences between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server edition

  • Ubuntu desktop edition includes desktop environment while Ubuntu server edition does not.
  • In installation process, Ubuntu desktop edition uses regular GUI interface while Ubuntu server edition uses menu driven CLI interface.
  • Unless the default customization is changed by manually selecting the packages in installation, Ubuntu desktop edition is customized for desktop use while Ubuntu server edition is customized for server use.
  • Before version 12.04, kernel was differently optimized for both editions. Along with kernel, support life cycle was also different for both editions. For Ubuntu desktop version, it was 5 years. For Ubuntu server edition, it was 3 years.

Similarities between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server edition

Technically, after version 12.04 both editions are same except the default installation of packages. In desktop edition, by default Ubuntu installs the packages what it considers desktop packages (such as Gnome desktop, Game, Video player, Open Office, etc.) and skips the packages what it considers server packages (such as Apache2 web server, Samba server, Bind9, NFS, etc.). In server edition, by default Ubuntu installs the server packages and skips the desktop packages.

Since installation disks of both editions contain all packages, by manually selecting the packages in installation, one can easily install desktop edition form Sever installation disk and server edition form desktop installation disk.

After version 12.04, both use same kernel and support same life cycle. Now both editions are supported for 5 years.

Desktop environment in default Ubuntu

Until version 11.04, Ubuntu used GNOME as default desktop. In version 11.04, Ubuntu replaced GNOME with Unity. Unity remained default desktop till version 17.10. In version 18.04, Ubuntu reverted to its former desktop GNOME. Now GNOME is the default desktop environment in Ubuntu.

Prior to 110.4, GNOME 2 was used as default desktop. In Ubuntu 18.04, GNOME 3 is used as default desktop. A lot of features and functions are removed, added and improved in GNOME3 from GNOME 2.

Ubuntu MATE

In version 11.04, Ubuntu changed its default desktop to Unity from GNOME 2. Many users, who were passionate about GNOME 2, did not like this change. A community of such people, made a new flavor known as Ubuntu MATE. In this flavor they used GNOME 2 as default desktop. In nutshell, MATE was the reincarnation of the classic GNOME 2 desktop.

Later Ubuntu team members decided to use GNOME back as default. But instead of using the classic version (GNOME 2) they decided to build a brand new version of GNOME. They also decided to use Unity as default until the development of new GNOME is not finished.

Since GNOME was going to be the default again Ubuntu, the community who made the Ubuntu MATE, renamed everything in their customized version so it could coexist with newer version of GNOME. For example, Nautilus is now Caja, Evince is Atril, Gedit is Pluma, and so on.

As explained earlier, starting from version 18.04, GNOME 3 is the default desktop in Ubuntu. If you love classic GNOME 2 for its clean and logical desktop layout and robust performance, use this flavor. If you want to experience a brand new GNOME 3, use default Ubuntu.

Kubuntu

The Kubuntu uses KDE Plasma desktop by default. Kubuntu was first released in 2005. After default Ubuntu, Kubuntu is the second most popular flavor of Ubuntu. In this flavor, applications’ names usually start with letter ‘k’.

Kubuntu not only provides the desktop environment which look likes the Windows’s desktop but also uses a start button and task bar just like the Windows. Same as Windows, task bar is aligned in bottom and start button is placed in left corner of task bar.

Kubuntu provides the highest level of customization. You can customize hundreds of setting, add and install new desktop widgets (known as plasmoids), change the look and feel of desktop, customize tool bar and so on.

The only downside of Kubuntu is that it provides customization at the cost of system resources.

If you are a Windows user and looking a Linux alternative to Windows, this is the perfect match. Use this flavor, if you have a modern system or need superior GUI experience. Since this flavor uses a lot of system resource, it is not recommended to install and use it in an older system or in a system which has less memory and CPU.

Lubuntu

Lubuntu uses the LXDE desktop. It was first released in 2006. This is the third most popular flavor of Ubuntu. It is optimized for faster performance and resources saving. Just like, in Kubuntu applications’ name start with “k”, in this flavor applications’ name start with letter “l”.

In order to reduce the usages of system resources, a lot of customization is done in this flavor. For example, PCManFM is used for file manager, SDDM is used for login greeter, Leafpad is used for text editor. Just like these, several other heavy applications are replaced by lightweight applications.

If are looking for a flavor which is not only lightweight but also optimized for fast performance, this is the right choice. This is also a recommended flavor, if you have a system which has less memory and CPU.

Xubuntu

Xubuntu is also a lightweight flavor of Ubuntu. Xubuntu stands just above the Lubuntu in lightweight. This flavor uses XFCE desktop as default. XFCE is a clean and uncluttered desktop that is optimized for performance and usability.

Unlike Lubuntu which is mainly customized for lightweight, Xubuntu is customized for both lightweight and features. Since Xubuntu and Lubuntu both are customized for the same audiences, both have similar features. Both are lightweight and attractive and use less RAM and disk space.

If you have to select one from Xubuntu and Lubuntu, select Xubuntu. Xubuntu offers almost all features which Lubuntu provides. Xubuntu is older and more stable than the Lubuntu.

Ubuntu Budgie

This is another lightweight flavor of Ubuntu. This flavor uses Budgie desktop. Originally, this flavor was customized by community. Later, it was included in official flavor of Ubuntu. It was first released in 2016.

In lightweight it stands above the Xubuntu. Unlike Xubuntu and Lubuntu, Ubuntu Budgie is a new flavor. It uses a balanced approach between lightweight and appearance.

If you are looking for a flavor, which is not only fresh and sophisticated but also consumes less system resources, this is for you.

Edubuntu

This flavor is customized for schools and universities. It uses the same desktop environment which default flavor of Ubuntu uses. However it includes several custom applications which are specially designed for educational purpose. Blinken memory game, Chemtool for scheming chemical formulas, Fritzing emulator for building electronic circuits, Calibre books manager are few examples of these applications.

Since this flavor contains a lot of applications, its installation image is quite large. It also consumes a lot of disk space. In order to save the disk space, you can customize the default selection of packages. Edubuntu installer allows us to select the applications for target audiences (such as preschool, graduate and post graduate) and course levels (such as primary, secondary and tertiary).

This flavor is no longer supported by Ubuntu. The last supported official release was 14.04.

Mythbuntu

MythTV is a free and open-source home entertainment application. It is used to turn a computer into a network streaming digital video recorder, a digital multimedia home entertainment system, or home theater personal computer. It is a free and open-source alternative of Windows Media Center.

Installing and setting up MythTV in default Ubuntu require a lot of customization. We have to download and install several packages. In addition, we have to update related configuration files. Only a professional or an experienced user can do this.

If you are an inexperienced user or looking an easy way to setup MythTV in Ubuntu, Mythbuntu is for you. Mythbuntu by default not only installs MythTV but also configures it. Mythbuntu is the tailored solution for inexperienced users who want to use MythTV in Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Studio

This flavor is specially customized for media professional. This flavor includes several applications which are specially designed for audio and video editing. For example, it includes a2jmidid (ALSA sequencer), Ardour (hard disk recorder) Audacious (a lightweight audio player), Audacity (a digital audio editor), BEAST (music composter), Creox (real-time guitar effects generator), Hydrogen (drum effect generator), MusE (a MIDI/Audio sequencer), TiMidity (MIDI format convertor), Xwax (video emulator) Yoshimi (audio mixer) and so on.

If you are a media professional or looking for a free and open source platform for multimedia related works, this is the perfect choice.

Ubuntu Kylin

This is the Chinese version of Ubuntu. It is customized by the IT (Information Technology) department of China for the Chinese people. The difference between this flavor and default flavor is that this flavor is localized in Chinese language for Chinese market. This flavor is also released under the GPL license. It means, you can install and use it even if you are not a Chinese.

Unless you know the Chinese language, use the default flavor of Ubuntu. In terms of hardware and software support both are same. The only difference between them is the localization.

That’s all for this tutorial. In this tutorial we learned the different flavors of Ubuntu. We also learned which flavor should be used in which situation. If you have any suggestion or feedback about this tutorial, please let me know. If you like this tutorial, please don’t forget to share it with friends through your favorite social channel.

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