How Do Ubuntu-Based Distros Differ from Ubuntu

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If you are a seasoned Linux user, you most likely know what a “Ubuntu-based distro” means, but for new users, it is often very confusing. So is “Linux Mint” another version of Ubuntu, or is it another version of Linux? This article will explain the significance of Ubuntu-based distros compared to Ubuntu itself and what “Ubuntu-based” means.

Before I go into Ubuntu-based distros, like Linux Mint, let’s clarify Ubuntu itself. Ubuntu is free open-source software anybody can modify and use as a basis to create their own Ubuntu-based distro.

Ubuntu itself is a distro that also doesn’t start from scratch. It’s based on Debian Linux. Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) took some Debian files and created a new, more user-friendly distro called Ubuntu. Debian is one of the most popular Linux distros out there with tons of features, but for a non-technical user it’s more complicated to use than Ubuntu. I guess this is the main reason why Ubuntu became so popular – ease of use, coupled with decent functionality.

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However, since tastes (and needs) differ, as great as Ubuntu is, it can’t possibly appeal to everybody. One user needs one thing, another needs something totally different. While you can get Ubuntu and install all the additional software on your own, this takes time, and not all packages will work. It’s easier, especially for a newbie, to get a ready-made distro with the stuff you need. This is where Ubuntu flavors and Ubuntu-based distros come into play.

You have probably heard about popular Ubuntu-like distros, such as Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, etc. Though you can call them Ubuntu-based, these are just different flavors of Ubuntu. Technically, they are NOT separate distros, they are just the same Ubuntu core plus a different desktop environment. Also, they are official releases by Canonical, while Ubuntu-based distros are typically released by third-party developers.

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There are many reasons why one would want to use Ubuntu-based distros. First, you may like Ubuntu but are not happy with what’s included in it or in its official flavors. You might need different software/drivers, more user-friendliness, etc. In a sense, you want Ubuntu … but Ubuntu from a different angle.

Second, since Ubuntu is a very popular distro, chances are the apps you need have a Ubuntu version. If a distro is Ubuntu-based, most software will run without a problem, though don’t take this for granted. With the huge selection of Ubuntu apps from the Main, Universe, Restricted, and Multiverse repositories, your options for new software and updates to already installed apps are unlimited.

There are many Ubuntu-based distros targeted at a different audience and serving a different purpose. Some of the most popular ones are Linux Mint, elementary OS, and Zorin OS. However, there are dozens more.

One place you can check in your search for Ubuntu-based distros is DistroWatch. The list there includes Ubuntu flavors as well, but this isn’t a problem because flavors use Ubuntu anyway.

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When you look for Ubuntu-based distros, I recommend you concentrate on active ones only because if you get a distro that hasn’t been updated in a year and won’t be updated soon (if at all), you won’t be able to enjoy all the perks of Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros.

11 comments

  1. How specifically DO the Ubuntu-based distros differ from Ubuntu? I expected some revelations about some secret sauce or other ingredients but all I got was “they’re different”. I have tried some of them (Zorin, elementary, Mint and some others) and for the life of me I cannot see any differences other than eye-candy and a few inconsequential apps. I just cannot fathom how anybody can say Mint is better than Ubuntu, or vice versa. That’s like saying that brown-eyed people are better than green-eyed people.

    “I guess this is the main reason why Ubuntu became so popular – ease of use, coupled with decent functionality.”
    The main reason that Ubuntu became so popular is that all the pundits and tech writers made it sound as if Ubuntu is the only Linux version. Slackware, Debian, Fedora, Arch, Gentoo, Mandrake/Mandriva/Mageia, let alone any of their hundreds of derivatives, hardly ever got a mention. When did get mentioned, it was with a comment like “Oh, it’s too complicated for non-technical users”. Whenever articles were written about Linux, it was always about Ubuntu. Once in a blue moon the author would forget him/herself and mention Fedora.

  2. @dragonmouth, agreed, the article doesn’t really describe the differences between Ubuntu-based and Ubuntu itself but there are a few reasons somebody can say descended distro is better than the on it’s based on. Derivative distros are not just different in their desktop environments, the development teams and communities for the various distros may concentrate on drivers, kernel configurations, stability of particular included apps whilst still taking advantage of things like PPA’s and standardised .deb packages. With your example, Ubuntu and Mint, I have always found the performance of Mint a vast improvement over the equivalent Ubuntu flavour, but I always end up having to configure my WiFi adapters in Mint, never in Ubuntu.

    To a degree, yes Ubuntu’s popularity is partly down to the pundits and tech writers, but mainly because it was one of the first distros that was easy to install and maintain. Ubuntu has an LTS release which mainly becomes the base version for all the derivative distros. Fedora is an update procedure every 6 months; great for bleeding edge, but not so great for those taking more than 6 months to get used to Linux. Just bearing in mind this is the ‘maketecheasier’ website, articles are unlikely to be written for distros like Gentoo or Slackware. Fedora is extremely popular with experienced Linux users, and attempted by beginners but it’s only in recent versions it’s become simple enough for new Linux folk.

    • “Just bearing in mind this is the ‘maketecheasier’ website, articles are unlikely to be written for distros like Gentoo or Slackware.”
      I would think that is precisely why there would be more articles on Gentoo and/or Slackware – to Make It Easier for people to use those distros. However, I was not speaking only of MTE. The mad push for Ubuntu is evident on most sites. As for ease of use, SimplyMepis (before it went dormant) was just as easy to use as Ubuntu. Right now PCLinuxOS is equally easy to use and it is more flexible than any distro of the Ubuntu lineage.

      • Yep, PCLinuxOS is equally easy to use, personal opinion feels it isn’t as flexible. I’ve tried to keep my machines away from the horrors of systemd (still personal opinion here) but my main work machine is still having to stay with Linux Mint purely out of flexibility and just getting the applications on to it that I need. For some applications (even ones not too far off the noobie track) I still find myself having to work around stuff that demands systemd. Definitely not a plus point on the flexibility.

        I like PCLinuzOS these days, but it wasn’t so long back it physically looked out-of-date compared to Ubuntu/Mint…. whatever, which puts a lot of new users off. Slackware is great for learning the underpinnings of Linux, maybe that’s what people should be expecting from maketecheasier…. or is it making it easier for mainstream distros where they’re not having to worry about big updates every 6 months? I’m afraid I still find myself relieved that we’re not expected to use Gentoo for making anything easier. I run a Gentoo network for a local observatory with a number of Calculate Linux units mixed in, it is incredibly flexible, efficient and stable but it isn’t something that would benefit from tutorials. As I’m moving away from the area my next project with them is migrating over to something like Devuan/Debian. Calculate Linux is also an excellent distro, and very easy to administer, based on Gentoo but I don’t expect any tutorials to appear on the internet any time soon, there’s just too many distros to take into consideration to cover everything.

  3. Of course Linux Mint has a Debian edition which is not based on Ubuntu, it’s based on Debian which is the base for Ubuntu. I find it better than standard Mint and have used it now for several years. It makes Debian easy and it’s a bit faster. Also it is a rolling release which means updates are done when available, not when a new version is released. So your system is always up to date..

  4. ” I cannot see any differences other than eye-candy”

    For the different flavors of Ubuntu, the only real difference is the eye-candy based on which desktop environment / window manager is the default for the flavor and which applications are installed by default eg Qt based applications vs GTK3 when comparing standard Ubuntu with KDE flavors, and also the different desktop wallpaper.

    But in the case of non flavors but Ubuntu base distributions, these distributions although being perhaps 85% – 90% or more using Ubuntu packages also offer their own administration tools (eg Linux Mint software manager, Linux Mint USB tool etc compared to the Ubuntu equivalent) and in some cases offer their own custom written desktop and associated major components eg MATE, Cinnamo, Budgie compared to the standards offered by Ubunutu (GNOME, KDE Plasma). In a few cases the Ubuntu based distributions even provide their own version of a few packages compared to the Ubuntu standard package derived from Debian Testing (for LTS) or Debian sid (for intermediate releases).

    So not big differences (other than appearance) but a small subset of significant differences and some subtle ones as well.

  5. AFTER ALMOST A YEAR WAITING FOR UBUNTU 18 AND HOPING NOT TO HAVE THE CRAZY PROBLEMS WITH THR ROTATING
    WINDOW TO MY DISAPPOINTMENT IT STILL HAPPENS. APPARENTLY THERE IS A DRIVER NOT COMPATIBLE WITH MY HP
    17 IN DISPLAY. IF I BOOT IN SAFE MODE APPARENTLY I DONT GET THE PROBLEM BUT THE IMAGE HAS DE WRONG RESOLUTION. ANY ADVISE OR HOPE?

    • You could change to a Ubuntu derivative distro (Zorin, elementary, Mint, Peppermint, etc). One of them may offer a different driver.

      Have you posted your problem on the Ubuntu forum? Chances are someone has had the same problem and solved it.

  6. I didn’t list how Ubuntu-based distros differ from Ubuntu because this is different with each version and distro. Additionally, the article is intended for Linux newbies who might have not heard about kernel, Qt and other stuff more advanced users know about.
    As for the remark that Ubuntu is popular because of all the publicity it gets, I can speak for myself only but I do like it and I’ve been using it since 2006 as a primary and since 2008 as the sole OS I run all my machines on. During this years I’ve tried basically every single distro out there and I always went back to Ubuntu-based distros.

  7. “I didn’t list how Ubuntu-based distros differ from Ubuntu because this is different with each version and distro.”
    Then the title is false advertising.

    ” Additionally, the article is intended for Linux newbies who might have not heard about kernel, Qt and other stuff more advanced users know about.”
    What do newbies have to do with the price of tomatoes in China? Don’t you think newbies might like to know the differences, too? Or are the differences so esoteric as to only be of interest to experts? Since I cannot see much difference, I am not an expert. Oh, well, life is full of little disappointments. :-(

    “I can speak for myself only ”
    I wish more pundits and tech writers would speak only for themselves, instead of pontificating. Ever since Ubuntu debuted with that brown color scheme one usually associates with diapers, I’ve been trying time and time again to find something to like about it and its derivatives. Time and time again I have been disappointed. But then I guess I’m insane according to Einstein’s definition of insanity – “Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results each time.”

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