In this post, we will finally talk about individual distros. After reading this chapter, you can dive right in and download any of these to try them out. This is the second part of our list of distros and here, we will compile a list of Ubuntu-based distros and Ubuntu flavours we think you should know. Ubuntu-based distros look and feel different, but they all use the DEB package format and are compatible to some extent.
Distros from the Ubuntu family offer great support for all Debian programs. Just like Ubuntu itself, they have an easy GUI installation of the OS and you can install them with full disk encryption. Most Linux software is optimized for use on Ubuntu. The installation of additional software is easily done through the software centre, package manager (Synaptic) or the command line. There are far more derivatives than the ones we will mention below, but small distros with like 3 people maintaining them are excluded. Official derivatives of Ubuntu are called flavours, we will recommend most of those flavours. They have the same easy-to-use Ubuntu installer and Ubuntu’s software repositories.
If only minor adjustments have been made to an official derivative of Ubuntu, it is called an Ubuntu Flavour. Ubuntu flavours often only change the default desktop environment. Well-known Ubuntu Flavours are Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu Budgie, etc. Besides Ubuntu Flavours, there are also unofficial derivatives like ZorinOS, elementaryOS and Linux Mint.
Almost all features of Ubuntu are also available for its derivatives. Most of the Ubuntu derivatives use the Ubiquity installer, which is the default installer on Ubuntu flavours. In this AskUbuntu thread, you can see what Debian version every Ubuntu release is based on. The system requirements for all Ubuntu-based distros are in this AskUbuntu thread.
Some very popular Ubuntu-based Linux distributions we would like to introduce are:
→ Debian → Ubuntu family →Ubuntu
Ubuntu (formally called Ubuntu Desktop Edition) is arguably the most popular Linux distro on desktop and is installed on 39% of Linux personal computers (source). The main reason for that is probably that it is maintained by a company with 600 employees, the UK-based Canonical Ltd.
It features the intuitive GNOME 3 desktop environment, which was slightly modified for Ubuntu. This distro has the largest community, a good documentation and people in forums that can help you if you get stuck. Never underestimate the importance of community support in the Linux world. Noone beats Ubuntu in that regard. The Ubuntu developer Canonical estimated that there are around 40 million desktop users.
Ubuntu is very secure, normal accounts do not have root privileges all the time and most network ports are closed by default to prevent hacking. It has a built-in firewall as well as full disk encryption and compiles its packages for buffer overflow protection.
Virtually any privacy software we mention in the guide runs flawlessly on Ubuntu. Ubuntu has been around since 2004. As we said earlier, the Linux kernel is fantastic, but individual distros are sometimes not in the shape you would expect from major Linux derivatives. We were a bit disappointed when Canonical removed the option to drag & drop files or icons to and from the desktop in Ubuntu 19.04. Desktop drag and drop has been a feature in any OS since the 1984 original Mac OS, which popularised the GUI (image). We have no idea why the GNOME Project and Canonical thought it was a good idea to take it away from users.
We strongly recommend the LTS, long-term support releases of Ubuntu. They are sometimes also called long-term stable. Those are officially supported for 5 years, which makes them especially suitable for companies that use Ubuntu on desktops or servers. The main reason that we recommend them for “casual” users too is that Canonical really tries to make them stable and almost flawless. In a normal release like 19.04, the drag and drop issue will not be fixed after release. With an LTS version, you encounter less of those problems. Your system will also receive important security updates for 5 years, without upgrading to a newer version of Ubuntu. Normal releases are only supported for 9 months, which is pretty short and requires you to upgrade to the newest release every 6 months. The commercial support from Canonical is called “Ubuntu Advantage” and is very much needed for any company that needs a reliable system. Canonical also offers “Landscape”, a system management tool for Ubuntu deployments, on-premises (own local hardware) or in the cloud.
Canonical received a lot of backlash from the Linux community for their monetisation decisions in Ubuntu 12.04 to 15.04. The Unity search function would show you Amazon products for every keyword you type in. This program was called Amazon Shopping Lens. That was not only annoying, but also bad for your privacy. This is gone in the current releases, but as said above, an Amazon app is still there. Canonical needs at least one way to monetise their free product, but users can easily remove the app.
Despite the paid support they offer, they are so desperate for funding that they sometimes even do such things to get financial support from Amazon. Please choose another distro if this worries you. Ubuntu derivatives come without the Amazon app.
Another point of criticism was the Snappy package manager for distro-agnostic upstream software packaging. Snappy’s server-side software is closed source, which enraged some people in the Linux community. As with the Amazon app, you do not have to use Snappy.
Snappy is still a good system and provides easy development and installation. The available software packages are here and you can get the Snappy client software for many distros, including Arch, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, Manjaro, Mint and openSUSE here. It is the default software centre on Ubuntu and most of its derivatives. Snaps are universal Linux packages, so they make an end to the confusing mess of package formats. It supports countless programming languages and frameworks, as well as auto-updates. Snaps help you bring your software to all Linux distros. Here is an official user guide and there are installation instructions for every distro.
Almost all features of Ubuntu are also available for its derivatives below.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family →Ubuntu Flavour: Ubuntu MATE
Ubuntu MATE is an Ubuntu flavour that uses the MATE desktop environment, which is based on GNOME 2 and features a simple and classic desktop. Mate is a bit barebones, the GUI is quite old-fashioned and there are less pre-installed programs than in other distros.
To use Ubuntu software packages, you will have to install the repositories yourself. The big selling point of MATE is that it brings back the desktop metaphor from GNOME 2, but supports modern Linux technologies like the GTK 3 GUI toolkit.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family →Ubuntu Flavour: Kubuntu
Kubuntu is another distro based on Ubuntu, but features the KDE Plasma desktop environment. Unlike other Ubuntu flavours, it** looks very similar to Windows 10, but without the tiles that nobody likes. The software **resources are the same as for Ubuntu, but it also features some additional software from the KDE universe, like Kontact for emails, calendar and contacts.
The KDE desktop environment is just very intuitive and a lot easier to customize than GNOME. Kubuntu has been around since 2005, which makes it only 1 year younger than Ubuntu itself. Kubuntu will be maintained in the future for sure and is rock-solid, although a bit resource-heavy and not recommended for older PCs.
We do, however, think that KDE neon, OpenSUSE and Manjaro implemented the KDE desktop quite a bit better. The unwelcome change of removing your ability to drag & drop icons or files to the desktop in Ubuntu 19.04 does also appear in Kubuntu. This makes the KDE feel of Kubuntu much worse than in OpenSUSE, Manjaro or KDE neon.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family →Ubuntu Flavour: Lubuntu
Lubuntu is a lightweight-distro, which means that it does not need many hardware resources. Therefore, it runs smoothly on older PCs that would not be able to run Ubuntu flavours with the GNOME 3 desktop environment. Features are limited for better performance, but things like LibreOffice are available and pre-installed.
Lubuntu’s menus look a bit like Windows 2000 or XP, but are very responsive. It used the LXDE desktop environment prior to version 18.10, but now the LXQt environment for better performance. Lubuntu is as good as it gets for a usable lightweight distro and still manages to provide a modern look and feel. The LXQt DE of Lubuntu is extremely well designed and you will not miss any features. The DE is easy to customize, so you can increase the size of icons, menus and text for bigger screen, even if Lubuntu does not directly offer screen scaling. This is probably the best distro you can get for old PCs or netbooks with limited processing power. It will run smoothly on a PC with as low as 256MB of RAM (+ 300MHz Pentium II CPU) and boot with the speed of light.
In fact, we tried Lubuntu on a Windows 98, 32-bit PC from the year 1999 and it booted up in less than a minute! Lubuntu is also very energy efficient.
Some limitations that had to be made to improve performance are that windows do not have shadows and maximize animations. The start menu does only let you search for programs not folders and you need to know what you are looking for. On Ubuntu, you could search for what a program does, but on Lubuntu, you have to search for the exact name of the software.
Unfortunately, Lubuntu does not really have a software centre like Ubuntu, so you cannot install the software from that. Instead, you can install packages with the Muon package manager, which is a little less convenient. In Muon, you do not have screenshots or reviews, only a description. The pre-installed software is, however, quite useful and includes the browser Falkon, a notepad, Krita, digiKam, QtPass (KeePass), Vim, LibreOffice, Quassel IRC (chat), Firefox, Trojità (email) and VLC. If your old PC is older than 10 years, Lubuntu is the ideal distro for you. A good thing to know is that you can install Snap on Lubuntu, so you can still get software from there, when you take the time to install it (guide). Snaps are also available in the Muon Package Manager. Installing Snap is only required on versions of Lubuntu before 18.10. As soon as you have Snap, you can install the graphical Snap Store App (guide), which is the GUI known from distros like Ubuntu or Kubuntu. You will get the KDE software centre Discover.
There is a derivative of Lubuntu called Lubuntu Extra Life Extension (LXLE), which always uses the latest long-term support (LTS) release of Lubuntu. The software that is pre-installed also uses the latest stable version of the respective program, so LXLE will be very stable as well. LXLE has a focus on visual aesthetics and wants to bring that to even the oldest hardware. It improves the performance of Lubuntu to some extent to provide a better look with similar hardware requirements. LXLE uses the LXDE desktop environment, just like Lubuntu prior to version 18.10, but the developers made significant changes to it, added 100 wallpapers and created a sleeker look. When you want to bring an old machine back to life, this is a good distro, but you will not have many features or the latest software.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family →Ubuntu Flavour: Xubuntu
Xubuntu is also lightweight-distro, but needs a bit more RAM than Lubuntu. The menus look similar to GNOME 2 or MATE, because of the Xfce desktop environment. Features are limited for better performance, but LibreOffice and other useful programs are available.
Xubuntu has the exact same software centre as Ubuntu, so installing more programs is much more convenient than in Lubuntu. The pre-installed software is, however, quite useful and includes LibreOffice, GIMP, Firefox, Pidgin, Thunderbird, Parole Media Player, Xfburn and a dictionary.
All in all, it is a bit more feature-rich than Lubuntu, which comes at the cost of needing more resources. It requires at least 512MB of RAM, but boots with the speed of light. It just does not have Lubuntu’s Openbox window manager, which makes it less energy efficient. If your old PC is older than 5, but younger than 10 years, Xubuntu is the ideal distro for you.
It is a well balanced distro that works on old hardware, without making any compromises in terms of pre-installed software, customization options and user-friendliness. Especially the software centre from Ubuntu makes this distro extremely easy-to-use, since you neither have to use the command-line nor a package manager with cryptic application descriptions.
We will say that this is the distro we use on most of our less powerful machines. You can rely on Xubuntu’s stability and get work done. Having the Ubuntu software centre is just great. Make sure to get the latest LTS version of it. In our opinion, Xubuntu can completely replace your old Windows or macOS system and is packed with features. It brings old PCs back to life and has a great performance, without restricting you as much as Lubuntu. By the way, on our more powerful machines, we always go for Zorin OS.
→ Debian → Ubuntu family →Ubuntu Flavour: Ubuntu Budgie
Ubuntu Budgie is Ubuntu with the Budgie desktop environment, it has a dock similar to macOS. Budgie can also be used on other distros like Arch, Debian, Manjaro and Solus.
In our opinion, Ubuntu Budgie is too new (2016) to really be used and not polished enough. The English version is fine, but other language versions are hardly usable and confusing. We tried the Dutch, French and German versions, they were all pretty terrible. Ubuntu Budgie is broken on bigger than Full HD screens. You could scale it to 200%, but the scale mode in the display settings does not work well, menus get cut in half. Budgie look a bit like an unfinished product, so please wait until it gets better or choose another distro.
As we said, it is not a distro you should install, but you can still try it as a live OS. At least the dock called “Plank” and desktop icons for applications work smoothly. It also has great pre-installed software with many more utilities than Ubuntu. There is a disk analyzer, a system monitor, many programs to customize Budgie and more. It is quite sad that the Ubuntu Budgie team at Canonical released the distro in such a bad state and we hope that the distro will improve, since it has a lot of potential. At the moment, it is sadly one of the least impressive Ubuntu flavours.
This chapter is part of our series on^Linux distros. You can also read the other posts at: