I'm getting sick of Ubuntu's seemingly random changes. I'm thinking of switching to Debian permanently. Does anyone know if there's a list of changes between the two distros somewhere? I want to know what I'm getting myself into.

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    I really feel that before posting questions over here, people should try their question as search query on Google. There are so many results explaining the same question as yours. Not being offensive, but I feel there are better questions to be asked here. Moreover, this question seems to be a repeat of superuser.com/questions/154333/…
    – Dharmit
    Mar 17, 2011 at 16:34
  • @DharmitShah: The answers here are better than of that other question. Also, it was asked over 6 months before this one, so things might have changed. BTW it's ok to ask the same questions on different sites (as per SE policy).
    – tshepang
    Mar 17, 2011 at 22:19
  • @Tshepang: I don't mind repetitive questions being asked here (in fact I am no one to oppose that). But I feel that at times people don't spend any time Googling their queries. Anyway, I shouldn't be bothered about it. :) Just for info, googling the same query gives lots of links. :)
    – Dharmit
    Mar 18, 2011 at 5:57
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    what kind of ramdom changes are you referring to?
    – Pablo
    Mar 18, 2011 at 10:20
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8 Answers 8


By list of changes I assume you mean major differences between the two distributions. I know little about Ubuntu, so I'll mostly write about Debian.

Probably the main thing that distinguishes Debian from pretty much every other operating system on the planet is Debian Policy, which is what drives Debian's famous quality control. Sadly, said quality control is looking a little frayed round the edges as the number of packages in Debian's archives heads north of twenty thousand. Just check out the RC bugs for squeeze. Ubuntu doesn't have anything like this, and its releases are noticeably buggier. I've run into problems despite my extremely light use of Ubuntu.

Another thing is that when you send a bug report to Debian you will, at least some of the time, get a response, and possibly a bugfix. (In general Debian developers, given that they are volunteers with little free time, are very friendly and helpful in my experience.) With other operating systems it is mostly a black hole. I used SuSE back in the 1990s for a couple of years. They had no real bug reporting system, but there was an address that you could send feedback to, and I never got a reply in all the times I wrote there. The only reply I got from anyone connected with SuSE during the whole time that I was using it was when I wrote directly to a packager's address. From what I have heard Ubuntu/Canonical is rather similar. I imagine fully proprietary systems like Windows are worse. It is also worth noting that in community developed operating systems like Debian, developers manage packages because they are interested in them, and not infrequently, are experts in the domain area. Eg. the PostgreSQL maintainer is a PostgreSQL developer, the Linux kernel maintainers are Linux developers, and so forth. This would be relatively unusual in a non-community OS.

Debian is hard to beat on their own ground, which is, roughly, making the world's best damn operating system. Yes, I'm biased.

If I had to point to downsides it is, obviously, that packages in Debian stable can get a little dated, but as the Linux kernel and its ecosystem moves towards maturity, it is less of a big deal that it used to be. I have nightmare recollections of Netscape 4.77 locking up my machine back in the day. Using free software took more dedication then. In any case, one can get stuff from backports, which is now an official service, or backport packages oneself, which is not really difficult. Ubuntu is much more focused on keeping software current with regular 6 month releases. Obviously, this can involve compromises in quality as noted above.

Also, Debian is completely dedicated to free software, which can occasionally cause inconveniences. Eg. the Debian kernel as of the squeeze release, no longer contains non-free software. One can use a netinst installer containing the non-free bits if you need non-free stuff, but there is no full installer with non-free. In contrast, Ubuntu/Canonical, have a much more... relaxed attitude towards non-free software.

Another thing is that the expected technical level in Debian is perhaps a bit higher, so the OS holds your hand a bit less than Ubuntu does. However, the underlying system is essentially the same, so I'm not sure how much difference that really makes in practice.


If you read changelogs, you will see a lot of collaboration between Debian and Ubuntu. Here is a workflow of the exchanges:

workflow http://www.diagrammr.com/png?key=dodjkzMu8Bg

Security fixes not shown as they are everywhere except testing.

The biggest difference between those siamese twins is how does a package leaves the unstable/beta state to join the releasable. In one case it is just time, in the other it is some form of quality assessment.

Personally, I choose Debian testing because it has some form of stability (not being unstable for at least 10 days) with no specific patch day in the year (only once every two years). In my point of view, Debian testing is even more stable than an biannual Ubuntu (not LTS).

For other person which ask for advise, I say "Ubuntu", for the sake of simplicity, people love to reinstall, I don't.

  • nice diagram. did you make it yourself and if so, how? Mar 19, 2011 at 6:01
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    @FaheemMitha: Yes, I did, with a nice and small web app: diagrammr
    – shellholic
    Mar 19, 2011 at 9:37
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    Workflow image is missing, please correct it.
    – kenorb
    Nov 10, 2014 at 21:44

Here's more I'm aware of (on top of faif 's answer):

  • The most visible one to me is that Ubuntu treats sudo with greater regard than Debian. During Debian installation, the default option is to set up root password, as opposed to Ubuntu installation.

  • The Ubuntu installer is far prettier. It's also more demanding of the hardware. It's only a bit easier to use though (Debian's is quite easy to use as it is).

  • YMMV, but many have claimed that Debian is more stable. I can attest to that, although I haven't actually checked recently.

  • Debian is more conservative regarding system-wide technical changes, partly because it takes much more co-ordination to get things done. That's likely because it lacks a real Dictator, benevolent or not.

  • Debian officially supports far more packages

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    When using the 'Expert Install' option for Debian, you are asked if you want to set a password for the root user or not. If you do not set a root password then it is very similar to what Ubuntu does. Mar 17, 2011 at 21:00
  • How much of this is still valid in late 2015?
    – einpoklum
    Oct 30, 2015 at 18:18
  • I removed 2 outdated points @einpoklum
    – tshepang
    Oct 30, 2015 at 23:40
  • @Tshepang: So Debian is still too sudo-happy in your opinion...
    – einpoklum
    Oct 31, 2015 at 8:15
  • @einpoklum you mean Ubuntu is still too sudo-happy?
    – tshepang
    Nov 3, 2015 at 10:13

Go to the source:

Where did it all begin?

Linux was already established as an enterprise server platform in 2004. But free software was still not a part of everyday life for most computer users. That's why Mark Shuttleworth gathered a small team of developers from one of the most established Linux projects – Debian - and set out to create an easy-to-use Linux desktop, Ubuntu. The vision for Ubuntu is part social and part economic: free software, available free of charge to everybody on the same terms, and funded through a portfolio of services provided by Canonical.

From: http://www.ubuntu.com/project/about-ubuntu

And then see: http://www.ubuntu.com/community/ubuntu-and-debian

So, differences are thousands, but in the core, we're talking about a strong distro as debian is, with a well defined methodology and rules to say: ok, now it's "stable"; and an easy-to-use desktop system, with defined time to release a system with mostly new and untested software.

If you're a common desktop user, then you'll love ubuntu. Debian isn't built to be a newbie-friendly system, or something like that... say it's power-user-friendly. But maybe you don't like Ubuntu, nor debian, then try OpenSUSE (Learn YaST).

BUT: If you're a relatively advanced Linux User, try Debian. It's better than Ubuntu for experienced users, and i'd never found it "hard" to use.

BTW: I'm debian user since 4.0 "etch", and I love it.

Sorry about my English, Cheers

  • That other systems are easier to use than Debian doesn't necessarily mean Debian isn't yet user-oriented (or even newbie-oriented, if that's what you meant).
    – tshepang
    Mar 17, 2011 at 13:38
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    As enjoyable as I find the expression "experimented users" to be, I feel obligated to let you know, or to remind you, that the correct wording would be "experienced users".
    – intuited
    Mar 17, 2011 at 13:40
  • Thank'u @intuited - I'm Argentinian, so your comment is helpful.
    – D4RIO
    Mar 17, 2011 at 13:52
  • @D4RIO: Cool, I'm used to seeing this coming from francophones («expérimenté»). I guess it's the same in Spanish.
    – intuited
    Mar 17, 2011 at 14:04
  • Yeah, in spanish you say "experimentados" to talk about experience.
    – D4RIO
    Mar 17, 2011 at 14:15

I used to run Debian, but got sick of waiting years for e.g. Firefox iceweasel icecat to be updated to a modern version. Although security and some bug fix updates will go out between distro releases, generally you'll have to wait for a new distro release to go from, say, FF 3.5.12 to FF 4.2. Fortunately, Debian releases have been more frequent of late, but there is still more delay and uncertainty than with Ubuntu's steady 6-month release cycle.

Of course, the benefit of Debian's patient release philosophy is that the result is more secure and stable. IMHO this is a large part of the reason that it is the upstream distro for a number of others, including Ubuntu. However, if you're not running a server or otherwise in a security-critical environment, and/or need/want to have fairly recent versions of apps installed, then Debian may not be the best choice.

There's also the option to run the unstable version of Debian, which will also give you more recent apps. I am not sure how this compares in quality to running Ubuntu; I would guess that Ubuntu falls somewhere between Debian stable and unstable in terms of security and stability.

  • Testing and Unstable are pretty much stable, and some claim more stable than other so-called Stable releases (e.g. Ubuntu's releases). I'm not knocking on Ubuntu, but that's what the ppl sez.
    – tshepang
    Mar 17, 2011 at 14:52
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    Specifically for the Firefox derivate, mozilla.debian.net can help you.
    – user
    Jan 16, 2014 at 12:36

I'd suggest caution if you want to use Debian on the desktop. They don't seem to have the resources necessary to provide QA on the desktop side. For the past couple of years installing Debian Desktop leaves you without notifications for security updates.

That's been my biggest annoyance. Easy to work around, so consider this a heads up :). Just set APT::Periodic::Update-Package-Lists 1 in /etc/apt/apt.conf. I just think it's a big warning sign, something security-critical is not working out of the box. (Non-default desktops may have some documentation or better treatment here, and upgrades from 6.0 happen to work "correctly").

I have concerns which might be described as you did. I'm planning to eventually switch to ubuntu-gnome. That avoids the ubuntu-specific desktop, and the next release drops upstart for systemd, and avoids the need for necro-consolekit. It'll also avoid ubuntu-specific Mir. (I think ubuntu will eventually get Wayland - at least kubuntu aren't interested in Mir and will avoid it. It might take a bit longer to arrive, like with systemd, but X should be fine until then).


I think that this article explains some stuff. In short: different installers, no proprietary software and no impressive GUI settings in Debian by default, Debian's major updates can last for years (this is for good IMHO), Unstable, Testing, and Stable repositories -- you choose what to favor (security vs latest versions of applications)...

  • You mean impressive GUI seetings in Debian by default? Is that a mistake?
    – tshepang
    Mar 17, 2011 at 13:32
  • @Tshepang Yes, I wanted to say "no impressive GUI settings by default". Thanks
    – sakisk
    Mar 17, 2011 at 14:04
  • Ubuntu long term support releases are comparable to Debian stable. Actually I think the LTS's are a bit longer than Debian nowadays, and Ubuntu's time-based releases make this nice and predictable.
    – sourcejedi
    May 27, 2015 at 14:09

I use Ubuntu and a very close friend uses Debian. We both run pretty much the same packages. He is forever calling me to help him out of crises. Granted the silly things he has problems with most Debian users would not. He calls me because I have been successful in helping him when he accidentally crashed his entire system and I recovered it for him. No... I'm not a guru. I just read the book before using anything. That does not make me an expert. It is what everyone should do before using any system. That said: The difference is preference. I like Ubuntu only because it was easier to find my printer driver. I know that's a silly reason. I like Debian because it's cleaner, and I believe there are almost 20,000 packages available. It's a matter of preference. Debian is faster if that means anything. I say try them both and decide for yourself.

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