If you've heard of Ubuntu, the most popular Linux version for desktop PCs, you've probably heard of Debian and Linux Mint as well.
With so many Linux distributions, it can understandably be difficult for newbies to tell them apart. In this case, these three options have a lot in common, but there is still a lot that distinguishes them.
Debian-based Linux distributions
There are hundreds of Linux-based operating systems (commonly known as "distributions" or "distributions") to choose from in the Linux world. Most of them expand from an existing distribution and implement various changes. There are only a handful that are not based on anything else.
Debian is one of them, a parent from which most other versions of Linux have emerged. Ubuntu is the most prominent offspring.
Although Ubuntu is based on Debian, it also became the parent of many other distributions. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, for example
What is the difference between Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distributions?
If you connect the dots, it means that Linux Mint is ultimately based on Debian.
But Linux Mint is not Ubuntu and Ubuntu is not Debian. Although they have largely the same technical foundation, you probably don't get the impression when you start them for the first time.
Software developer Ian Murdock released the first version of Debian in 1993, creating a community of developers working together to provide a stable way to use the best software the world of free software has to offer. The name came from the combination of his name and the name of his then girlfriend Debra.
While you can install Debian on your laptop and replace Windows, Debian is more than a desktop operating system. It is an extensive collection of software that you can configure in various ways to achieve the desired experience. This is why so many projects use Debian as a foundation.
But yes, you can install Debian as a desktop operating system. Technically, a standard desktop experience is available, but the installer lets you choose which desktop interface you prefer. You can even choose not to have a graphical interface at all, which is ideal for servers.
This freedom means that the Debian teams leave the majority of the design and usability decisions to the various free software projects themselves. How Debian looks and feels has more to do with the decision of the GNOME or KDE teams than with the opinions of the Debian developers.
You won't find the custom themes and personal style that Ubuntu and Linux Mint offer in spades, though this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
For example, the GNOME desktop interface doesn't support custom designs, and many app developers are actively requesting that distributions stop addressing their apps.
Debian's package management
However, there is a large part of the experience that is specific to Debian. This is package management. Debian uses the DEB format and the APT package manager. However, I will not go into details here, since Ubuntu and Linux Mint as Debian-based distributions contain the same tools.
This is not to say that Debian is nothing special. The reasons for using Debian
12 reasons why you should choose Debian Linux
There are many, but few are likely to be of great importance to people who first discover free software.
If you come to Debian from a different version of Linux, you may find that much of the software is older than elsewhere. New versions of Debian only come out every two to three years, and app updates are frozen along with the rest of the system alongside security patches and similar maintenance. If you want to use newer software on Debian, you can, but this brings with it more errors and instability.
In short, Debian is not difficult to use, but it is aimed at technical users rather than Ubuntu or Linux Mint. Debian is ideal for people who are more interested in the values of free software, want more control over how their PC works, create a server, or value long-term stability.
Unlike Debian, Ubuntu is the product of a private company. Canonical launched Ubuntu in 2004. The goal was to develop a Linux version aimed at non-technical users. The slogan was "Linux for people".
What makes Ubuntu different from Debian? There was a clear product to start with: the Ubuntu desktop. Canonical employed developers to make the chosen standard experience as pleasant as possible for users.
Today Canonical offers a simpler installer, a redesign of the GNOME desktop and newer software.
(Ubuntu packages technically come from the unstable branch of Debian. This means that experienced users can get this software on Debian, but at the risk of a less stable desktop).
The snap store
Canonical created the Snap package format and wooed commercial software developers to release their apps in the Snap Store
Flathub vs. Snap Store: The best websites for downloading Linux apps
In addition to Ubuntu's position as the most widespread Linux version, the Snap Store makes Ubuntu a Linux distribution with the greatest degree of software support from non-Linux developers. This is relevant for apps like Skype and Steam as well as for a variety of PC games.
Canonical's snap format is a universal format that works regardless of the Linux distribution chosen. As a result, you no longer need to use Ubuntu to take advantage of many of these benefits.
Ubuntu has a predictable release schedule. New versions for long-term support are released every two years. Intermediate publications appear every six months. This makes it suitable for people who like regular updates and just want a reliable computer.
In addition to the mainstream version, various Ubuntu versions are available. Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop environment, while Lubuntu uses LXQt. Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop and Ubuntu MATE is delivered with (surprise!) The MATE desktop. If you don't like the standard interface, one of the many Ubuntu variants
8 Ubuntu flavors in comparison: Kubuntu vs. Lubuntu vs. Xubuntu vs. MATE vs. Budgie vs. Studio vs. Kylin
can be the right fit.
Clément Lefèbvre launched Linux Mint in 2006, just a few years after Ubuntu. There was considerable experimentation in the early days when the mint developers decided how to structure the technical aspects of the desktop. They eventually ended up making Linux Mint fully compatible with the Ubuntu desktop.
Both distributions mostly use the same repositories and can install the same software. DEB packages for Ubuntu also work in Linux Mint. The Linux Mint team doesn't care much about snaps, but you can still install them.
The main difference between Mint and Ubuntu is the initial desktop experience. The Linux Mint team created the Cinnamon desktop environment, which resembles Microsoft Windows by default. You have an app launcher at the bottom left, a taskbar at the bottom and system icons at the bottom right.
Mint comes with a selection of tools that make it easy to install apps and change desktop themes. Mint also has the ability to pre-install multimedia codecs that you will need to install on Debian and Ubuntu after installation.
These changes have encouraged people to choose Linux Mint
10 reasons to fall in love with Linux Mint
as a simple or comfortable desktop that can be learned and used on a daily basis.
If you don't love the Cinnamon desktop, Linux Mint's MATE and Xfce editions are also available. Both have the same theme and general layout, but may run more smoothly on older computers.
Debian vs. Ubuntu vs. Linux Mint: what is it?
Personally, I would use Debian. But then I'm a longtime free software user who prefers distributions that try not to make changes to the "upstream" code. But I wouldn't necessarily give Debian to a first-time Linux user. Anyone familiar with computers could find out, but Ubuntu and Linux Mint offer an easier experience and look better.
The same applies to the elementary operating system and pop! _OS, both of which are also based on Ubuntu. And if you want to like Debian, you may find a lot to like in Fedora, another upstream project that isn't based on another distribution.
If you're not yet paralyzed by your choice, there are so many other great Linux distributions to consider
The best Linux Operating Distros
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