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I don't know a lot about the meta OS-level workings of Unix/Linux and various distros.

My understanding so far is that you take the Linux kernel and install a specific combination of packages to it to end up with different distros. I'm sure there's more nuance to it than that, but I don't know what that nuance is.

So my question is - since Ubuntu is a debian-based OS, if I:

  1. Install Debian without a desktop environment on a VM straight from their download page
  2. Install the "ubuntu-desktop" package using aptitude

Will I end up with the same OS as if say I clean install Ubuntu directly to the VM?

Does it just depend on what services/packages are different between the two OSes? Or is there more to the story than that?

Happy to have a discussion in the comments. Feel free to school me. I don't know what I don't know here.

  • Y'ou will get an Debian with ubuntu packages & looking like an ubuntu ; it is possible to make a real Ubuntu from Debian but this work is similar to create you own ISO of an ubuntu ... interesting exercise but that's all – francois P Jan 7 at 12:57
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No; definitely not easily anyway.

Ubuntu releases are easily dated because of the year.month format used, and if you look you'll note debian release don't match up (eg. there was no debian release in 2018 near 18.04; debian releases are usually in odd years and when ready so the software never actually aligns. Many debian-stable packages are behind Ubuntu ones (as Ubuntu usually takes from debian-testing/sid so is ahead of debian-stable), but not always as many ubuntu packages push code upstream to debian to save work... The two don't align perfectly at all - so not it's not really possible.

If you do what you're asking, you'll soon find yourself in dep-hell (compare key packages in packages.debian.org to packages.ubuntu.com and you'll find it's rare for debian to match ubuntu) See https://wiki.debian.org/DontBreakDebian provided by @DK Bose

Debian packagers make different choices to Ubuntu packagers; those decisions cause issues you'll discover if you tried what you're thinking. I'm involved with Lubuntu (LXQt) which actually is pretty close to Debian (comparing my Lubuntu 20.04 to debian bullseye/sid [albeit superficially inaccurate]), but we use openbox, debian use xfwm4, we use ..... - ie. differences are made & these show in packages (esp. deps) because of our choices in other packages etc.... they are different, to assume they aren't leads to problems..)

There are instances were the Debian packager is the same person as the Ubuntu packager (I see Debian packaging discussions occasionally mentioned in Ubuntu flavor (note: I'm found in more than just Lubuntu) [irc] rooms; pushing it upstream to debian-sid so it'll flow (or can be pulled) into Ubuntu as well), but even if the it's same person, different rules may be used due to the different environments & decisions made by teams (eg. my prior example of dm/wm used by LXQt Debian vs Ubuntu)

Another problem - even if you do get a Debian/Ubuntu system to install (rather possible depending on what you build I believe) your upgrade path should be taken as being none-possible & start again. ie. I very much doubt do-release-upgrade will work with Ubuntu in performing the upgrade; and debian's upgrade tools will likely fail too.

This question was asked first on Ask Ubuntu, my comments made there I've copied here. Sorry this isn't really an answer; more thoughts expressed with some skipped, and very minor editing only

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  • The point about not being able to dist-upgrade in the future led me to ditch this Debian to Ubuntu idea altogether. I've instead started with an install of Ubuntu server (which I'm already familiar with) and am duct taping together a custom desktop environment over top of that. Ubuntu server seems to start with just 18 top-level packages, which is as barebones as I can ask for. Thanks for all your help! I'm marking this as the accepted answer. – Vidur Jan 8 at 7:21
  • This is off-topic comment probably anyway, but I do really see Debian & Ubuntu as pretty much the same thing. To mix packages though as you proposed is something I'd only do if I did a lot of homework (via CLI or packages.ubu|deb I mentioned) or knew the packages already (and yes future is always an unknown so it does add maintenance costs as later releases can change historical assumptions). Safer if you're talking pretty stand-alone packages (something easily removed come release-upgrade time if needs be) – guiverc Jan 8 at 7:33
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Short answer: no.

You might get something similar (if the dependencies are satisfied, not a small 'if'), but you will not the exact list of packages and/or versions, or the sames patches to upstream.

And I'm not even asking which version Debian and which version of Ubuntu are you using as base and ubuntu-desktop provider.

Making Ubuntu, or Mint, or Devuan, is a lot more work than just pulling packages from Debian.

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  • 4
    ubuntu-desktop is only available from Ubuntu repositories, so some release of Ubuntu would have to be the ubuntu-desktop provider (and then one might imagine that the dependencies will come from Ubuntu too). However “upgrading” from Debian to Ubuntu isn’t a supported scenario, and likely won’t work anyway (because of different package splits in some cases, without the Breaks/Replaces relationships which would be required to replace one set of packages with the other). – Stephen Kitt Jan 7 at 16:00

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