There is more than one Ubuntu. You can download Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu or Lubuntu: but what̵
What is the difference?
To make a good choice, you need to understand the strengths of each “flavor”. That could be the bling and shine of Kubuntu, the “set it up and forget it” of Ubuntu, the retro simplicity and stability of Xubuntu, or Lubuntu’s ability to run on older and less powerful hardware.
Despite the different names, these are all based on the same underlying Ubuntu software. They contain the same Linux kernel and low-level system utilities. However, each has different desktop and flavor-specific applications. That means some are more elaborate, while others are lighter, so they all feel a bit different.
Since these flavors are built to make Linux more accessible, they won’t necessarily score upvotes in a nerdy Reddit thread. The flavors are about usability rather than command line geekiness.
Here’s a look at four of the Ubuntu distributions. Learn what each does and doesn’t do so you can decide what works best for you:
Ubuntu: Best for Linux First-Timers
Ubuntu installs quickly and easily on almost any modern hardware, often in just 5 or 10 minutes. It only needs 4 GB of memory and a 25 GB hard drive (take that, Windows 10!).
The GNOME desktop, with its dock on the left, is surprisingly intuitive, even if it’s hardly conventional and not necessarily easy to fine-tune. You have to install some apps, such as the GNOME Tweak Tool, and you have to maneuver through the jungle that is the GNOME Shell extension website and its mini apps.
The software, including the LibreOffice office suite, Firefox browser, and Thunderbird email client, are mostly replacement replacements for everything Windows offers. That said, the Software app, which handles the installation, is clunky and prone to crashes and has been “fixed” for years.
Kubuntu: Best for tweaking and customizing
Kubuntu uses the KDE Plasma desktop and various KDE apps (Kwallet, anyone?) On top of the Ubuntu base. While there are no official minimum system requirements, that means it may not seem as lightweight or nimble as Ubuntu in terms of size or resources (and there is no 32-bit version).
But Kubuntu offers a much nicer look and feel than Ubuntu, as well as the flexibility to customize the desktop to look like almost anything you want. The Dolphin file manager is usually considered one of the most prolific in computing. In addition, the developers have steadily replaced many of their infamous K apps, such as the browser, email and office suite, with Firefox, Thunderbird and LibreOffice.
The cons? The other K apps and their dependencies tend to clutter the hard drive. Plus, installing a non-KDE app often means installing a large number of non-KDE files for it to work, adding to the clutter.
Xubuntu: The best for simplicity and stability
There’s nothing flashy or postmodern about Xubuntu, which uses the Xfce desktop on top of the Ubuntu base. That’s its biggest advantage: it’s about as stable, reliable, and rock-solid as Linux distributions get. In this, the Xfce desktop is so old-fashioned that it looks like it hasn’t changed in the past decade (and usually it hasn’t, except for stability).
Plus, Xubuntu doesn’t take up a lot of system resources – the minimum is just 512MB of memory and a 7.5GB hard drive. Despite this, it can run the same apps as Ubuntu (LibreOffice, Firefox, VLC and the rest).
But it also means that since Xfce is so different from GNOME, you may not be able to install a must-have GNOME app you might want, like the Tweak Tool. And because it’s so old-fashioned, there’s little you can do about it. If you think desktops need more than a dock, a wallpaper option, and a change of icons, then Xubuntu is not for you.
Lubuntu: Best for a lightweight desktop
Lubuntu started life as a distro designed to run on older, slower, and lower-spec hardware, and that remains one of its selling points: it only needs 1GB of memory (although, like Kubuntu, there are no official minimums) .
But the developers have refined the approach over the past few releases, focusing on a light but more modern distro. Hence the move to the LXQt desktop, the Calamares installer used by Fedora, the KDE Muon software center, and the decision to drop the 32-bit version.
The LXQt desktop is similar to Xfce in that it is lighter and simpler than GNOME and Plasma, although it uses some of the same code under the hood as Kubuntu’s Plasma. In this, it’s probably fair to think of the new Lubuntu as a lighter, less blingy version of Kubuntu that also uses less resource intensive apps like Trojita email and the Featherpad text editor. The catch is that this new approach is still a work in progress and there have been several reports of repeated buggies in forums and elsewhere.
Ultimately, it’s worth trying every option you’re interested in. You can put them all on a USB stick and try it in a live environment (no installation required) to see what clicks for you.
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