Which Ubuntu Flavor Should You Choose?

Which Ubuntu Flavor Featured

If you are a fan of Ubuntu but not a fan of Gnome, what can you do? You should know that you are not stuck to using the Gnome version of Ubuntu. You can install another desktop environment or simply use another “flavor” of Ubuntu that can be another desktop manager by default. Let’s see how they differ and which Ubuntu flavor would be better for you.

What is Ubuntu Flavor?

Ubuntu flavors are generally Ubuntu running with a different desktop environment. The default desktop environment used in Ubuntu is Gnome, but not everyone is a fan of Gnome. Some may be a fan of KDE, while others are more used to the older Mate desktop. The purpose of the various Ubuntu flavors is to cater to these groups of people. There are seven official Ubuntu flavors as of this writing. They are recognized and supported by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. The different flavors are:

  • Kubuntu
  • Lubuntu
  • Ubuntu Budgie
  • Ubuntu Kylin
  • Xubuntu
  • Ubuntu Mate
  • Ubuntu Studio

The following is a breakdown of how each flavor differs from others.

Kubuntu

Kubuntu 20.04 comes with the KDE Plasma 5.18 LTS desktop environment. KDE is much more customizable that Gnome, making Kubuntu the perfect choice for those who demand a modern, ultra-customizable desktop and aren’t afraid they’ll get lost among the dozens of options.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Kubuntu Desktop

Software

Kubuntu swaps all gnome-related applications for KDE alternatives. KDE, though, also has a broader variety of applications tied to it.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Kubuntu Software

Extra software, as well as add-ons for the KDE desktop itself, can be installed through KDE’s Discover application. It’s as easy to use as Ubuntu’s default software store but looks a bit more complicated visually. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t advertise or prioritize snap versions of software in any way.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Kubuntu Discover

If you were using previous versions of KDE, you may also notice that the default music player has switched from Cantata to Elisa.

Plasma 5.18

Plasma 5.18 has a new Global Edit mode that replaces the customization menu on the top right of the screen with a bar at the top center of the screen. From there, you can add widgets to the desktop, create extra workspaces, or access the desktop configuration options.

KDE supports a “Do Not Disturb” mode that suppresses notifications. It goes excellent with KDE’s support for Night Color, which tweaks the screen’s color temperature.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Kubuntu Night Color

Like Gnome, KDE comes with three versions of its Breeze theme. Light, dark, and Kubuntu’s default, that looks like a hybrid of the other two.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Kubuntu Themes

To assist in its customization when tweaking its settings, KDE now presents a preview of the results arranged in a grid view. This grid view is also used when downloading new themes, helping to appreciate the differences more.

Download Kubuntu 20.04 LTS

Lubuntu

LXQt 0.14.1 is front and center in Lubuntu 20.04. If you need a lightweight, but functional Ubuntu flavor, you should give Lubuntu a try.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Lubuntu Desktop

Quick but Basic Desktop

LXQt works like KDE, presenting a default taskbar with a primary menu, a task-juggling section, and an additional tray. Unlike KDE, though, LXQt trades vast configurability and visual effects for a more lightweight and straightforward desktop experience.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Lubuntu Menu

On the left of the bar are the main menu, a workspace selector, and links to favorite apps. On the right, you can find volume and network controls, access to the clipboard’s contents through Qlipper and to a calendar preview when clicking the clock. There’s nothing fancy, and everything works as expected.

A Ton of Themes

Lubuntu comes with many different LXQt and OpenBox themes that you can mix and match.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Lubuntu Lxqt Themes

Software

Since it’s based on Qt, Lubuntu uses KDE’s Discover application instead of Ubuntu’s default store for finding and installing new software.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Lubuntu Discover

As for how it is in daily use, Lubuntu feels like a “Kubuntu Lite” and is an excellent option for everyone seeking a less resource-heavy alternative to both Ubuntu and Kubuntu.

No Upgrade

If you stuck with the older Lubuntu 18.04 version, you shouldn’t upgrade to 20.04. Early versions used the LXDE desktop, unlike the new version’s LXQt. Due to their very different structure, an upgrade from one to the other can lead to a broken desktop.

No ZFS

Unlike the Gnome and KDE flavors, Lubuntu 20.04 uses the Calamares installer. That means no support for installing the OS itself in a ZFS partition through the default initial setup.

Download Lubuntu

Ubuntu Budgie

Ubuntu Budgie uses the Budgie desktop environment that was initially found in the Solus project. Budgie is based on GTK+ and, in many ways, feels like a Gnome 3 from an alternative planet. It seems Gnome’s developers decided to stick with the way Gnome 2 worked.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Budgie Desktop

Ubuntu Budgie is made for everyone who seeks a beautiful but straightforward desktop, which will work as expected but isn’t lacking in modern features and aesthetics.

Great Welcome Window

The Budgie flavor comes with a stellar Welcome Window that links to all the options anyone may need to tweak after installing a new operating system.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Budgie Welcome

Budgie Welcome is split into three distinct sections. “Familiarity” allows the installation of a different web browser, tweaking the user interface, and keyboard shortcuts. “Post-Installation” allows language and input customization, new update and driver downloads, restricted extras, backup setup, firewall configuring, and management of users. Finally, “Troubleshooting” contains a single “System Specifications” page that presents a detailed report about the computer’s hardware.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Budgie Sysinfo

Friendly, Modern Desktop

Ubuntu Budgie’s desktop looks sleek, aesthetically pleasing, modern, and has everything needed via a click.

By default, it presents a bar at the top of the screen from where you can access the primary menu, see the time and jump to related settings (and the calendar) as well as a group of icons on the right side. From there, you can access QuickNote that runs by default, jump to folders in your home directory or check the contents of removable devices, check out and control the network and audio, and can access the usual logout/shutdown menu.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Budgie Quicknote

Instead of including a task panel in its main bar, Ubuntu Budgie relies on the Plank launcher for access to favorite apps and the juggling of active ones.

Budgie desktop offers nine different themes that you can either apply instantly or install. What’s even better is that it also offers different Desktop Layout themes, among which two will probably look more friendly to people coming from Windows or Macs.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Budgie Applets

Budgie desktop bundles together its notifications with a group of applets. They are both accessible from individual icons displayed in the tray we described above but are presented as two tabs in the same panel on the right side of the screen. Those applets consist of a mini-calendar as well as audio controls – global, application, and device-based.

Download Ubuntu Budgie

Ubuntu Kylin

Unlike the other flavors of Ubuntu that target the whole world, Ubuntu Kylin is made for the Chinese audience. Although its beautiful UKUI desktop environment might render it enticing to everyone outside China, it ends up feeling restrictive and like you have to jump through hoops to use it.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Kylin Desktop

Original Desktop

Ubuntu Kylin’s UKUI desktop doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. It presents the classic taskbar on the bottom of the screen with a primary menu button on the left, followed by links to favorite apps, a list of active windows, and finally, a tray with icons on the right side of the screen.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Kylin Authentication

As expected, on the tray is the time and date that, with a click, show a mini-calendar. Next to them are icons for quick access to network connections, audio controls, and the Notification Center. This appears as a panel on the right side of the screen, but apart from notifications, it also contains a second section. From there, you can access the contents of the clipboard and access plug-ins whose name describes their purpose: “Clock Alarm,” “NoteBook,” and “feedback.”

Software

Ubuntu Kylin offers its own software center, and this is where people outside China might start looking for a different distribution.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Kylin Store

Unfortunately, everything in Kylin Software Center is in Chinese, with the occasional English program name. That includes its interface, all category names, buttons, and menu entries. And there doesn’t seem to be an option to change the language.

Download Ubuntu Kylin

Ubuntu MATE

Ubuntu MATE is closer to Kubuntu in that, based on the MATE desktop environment, it presents a modern take on classic desktop tropes. As a true evolution of the Gnome 2 desktop environment, MATE is familiar and easy to use but doesn’t lack polish and shine.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Mate Desktop

Like Ubuntu Budgie, this is as close to a stable but modern Gnome 2 distribution as anyone can get. In direct comparison, MATE leans more towards classic Gnome 2 compared to the more modern Budgie.

Friendly and Useful Welcome Window

On the first bootup, Ubuntu MATE shows a Welcome window which contains useful options.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Mate Welcome

A “Getting Started” section presents links to all the options that are useful after a new installation. From those, you can:

  • Download updates and drivers
  • Change the language and input
  • Set up backups
  • Configure network shares
  • Configure the firewall
  • Set up users
  • Install new software
  • Install new color themes and swap between their “default,” light, and dark variant
  • Change the Desktop Layout between four choices. There is the default MATE setup with two bars at the top and bottom of the screen, one that mimics Unity, with a bar on top of the screen and a launcher on the left side, and the two expected options that work like Windows or Mac OS X.
  • Install more browsers and choose which one you want as the default.

You can configure the most critical aspects of your desktop from this window, and then start using your computer without having to hunt down more settings.

A Desktop for Everyone

Ubuntu MATE offers eight layout styles, and you’ll find at least one that feels familiar and friendly.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Ubuntu Mate Desktop Styles

There is also an updated notification center which allows the user to define the number of visible notifications, automatically discard notifications by specific applications, and toggle a “Do Not Disturb” mode.

Software

The installation of new software is done through MATE’s Software Boutique, which feels more polished than both the default Ubuntu store and KDE’s Discover app. There doesn’t seem to be a preference to snap versions of applications, but at the same time, it looks like the Software Boutique gives access to a somewhat limited selection of software.

Download Ubuntu MATE 20.04 LTS

Xubuntu

Xubuntu comes with the XFCE desktop environment that skips glossy graphics and useless fluff to offer a light and breezy desktop experience. Although it’s fully featured as a desktop, it’s also resource-friendly enough to use on older or lower-end PCs.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Xubuntu Desktop

Xubuntu is probably the only relatively “resource-lite” version of Ubuntu that’s best suited for old and underpowered PCs.

Straightforward Desktop Experience

The XFCE desktop presents a single taskbar at the top of the screen. It comes with a main menu button on the left and a group of icons on the right. From those icons, you can access notifications (and enable a “Do Not Disturb” mode), manage network connections and audio levels, and check a mini calendar by clicking the clock.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Xubuntu Menu

XFCE comes with a “dark” spin on its default “Greybird” theme, and four other styles that change how the visual elements look (toolbars, buttons, menus, windows, etc.). Unfortunately, for optimal results, you have to tweak the visual settings at two different spots.

Which Ubuntu Flavor Xubuntu Theming

The new version 4.14 of XFCE has better compatibility with Nvidia’s proprietary graphics drivers and solves past display flickering problems with V-Sync support through OpenGL.

Software

Xubuntu uses the same software store as Ubuntu. So if you need to install more applications, they’ll only be a snap away.

Not for AMD

If you’re using an AMD GPU, it’s suggested you wait until the release of 20.04.1. The current version is known to have significant graphical issues with AMD GPUs, like missing window decorations.

Download Xubuntu

Ubuntu Studio

The new version of this media-centric flavor gets all the benefits of the new kernel but is more of an evolution from the previous 19.10 release. It comes bundled with multimedia applications for every need, from audio to DTP. Theoretically, after its installation, you already have everything you need to make your own movie from scratch, from writing the first draft of its scenario to color-correcting and compressing the final cut.

It’s worth noting that its maintainers decided to jump ship from XFCE to KDE in future versions because of its “better tools for graphic artists and photographers.” Thus, any upgrade from this version onwards may result in breakage.

Download Ubuntu Studio

A Flavor For You

The above list contains the official Ubuntu flavor, though there are plenty of Linux distributions out there that are based on Ubuntu, such as Linux Mint. It’s almost a given everyone will find a desktop environment to like among Ubuntu’s official flavors or derivatives. If you need some help making a choice, check out our guide to Linux distros for beginners or the best Linux distro for Windows users.

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6 comments

  1. I am a very traditional person. When it comes to computing I am a traditional kind of guy. TraditionalOK my theme, I use a very traditional and simple kind of wallpaper (nothing busy), I like a traditional menu (hate docks) so you can probably figure I use a traditional desktop too. My pick is Mate.

  2. No word about Pop!_Os that is, IMHO, a very good flavor for laptop ! https://pop.system76.com/
    Mostly based on Gnome, but it works better than default Ubuntu and don’t have snap by default

    1. The article is about *official* “flavors” of Ubuntu. This means every distribution mentioned is, as stated in the beginning, “recognized and supported by Canonical.” Pop Os might be a fine take of Ubuntu, but so is Mint. And Bodhi. And many others. Since they’re not “official alternative versions of Ubuntu,” we skipped them.

      If the article mentioned every single spin of Ubuntu, it would be ten times longer :-)

  3. This article is ultimately useful to me in helping to explain to non-technical and Home computer users the differences, aesthetically and to an itty bitty functional degree the differences in Linux Desktops.

    Even for different Linux distributions, the same Desktop choice can be discerning, as for example latest KDE on my preferred openSuSE Tumbleweed may appear somewhat different and is to some degree is different in menu layouts for many technical utilities in KDE on other distros..

    The wonderful news however, is that everyone hasexcellent choices of Desktops available to them in their use of Linux, whether slightly more Microsoft Windows 7-like or Windows 10-like in ZorinOS Linux, or the incredible and beautiful very much Apple MacOS like Desktop that comes with Deepin Linux.

    As with most things in life, having excellent choices is never a bad option.

  4. I currently use Ubuntu 20 minimal with the standard Gnomity desktop and don’t really like the desktop but everything works well. It runs our small home server which is occasionally used as a desktop.

    I used KDE Plasma in Manjaro for a while on my test laptop and liked Plasma a lot so I thought I’d try Kububtu thinking it’s Ubuntu with Plasma. It’s not; there are some significant differences such as not being able to use Dolphin as root, reason given is to protect users. From themselves, according to developers. Bizarre. Hello, like this is Linux?

    Krusader will give root privileges, so I added it. Ubuntu’s Nautilus has it from the start.
    I believe I’ve decided that maybe the best path is to install Minimal Ubuntu, add the desktop you want, then packages. That’s what I eventually did when I removed Kubuntu. I’ve found a lot of confusing duplication in distros’ standard installs; e.g., if you want 3 text editors, add two more, they don’t need to be included from the start.

    Anyway, the different flavors of Ubuntu (I’ve tried most mentioned here) aren’t just different desktops, although their site descriptions may say so. They come with additions, deletions and may have quite different capabilities from base.

    We’re gradually moving away from Windows having experimented with various Linuxes (Fedora this month, love it) and it’s been fun. All the distros we’ve tried have similar interfaces to Windows but they are much more predictable. None of the “What the **** is that?!” surprises Windows users regularly encounter.

  5. With literally hundreds of Linux distros available, one should not limit oneself to only Ubuntu and its “flavors”.

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