In Ubuntu, we can upgrade from text-mode installation to GUI desktop environment by installing ubuntu-desktop package.

How to do the same with Debian?

3 Answers 3


debian has a number of task-* packages, that are empty (no content), but provide dependencies to packages to fullfill a given task.

to get a neat desktop system do

 aptitude install task-desktop

If you like the ubuntu-desktop package, why don't you just install ubuntu?

There is no direct equivalent in debian. Just install the parts you are interested in. If you like the gnome desktop environment just install the gnome package. - This will install all its dependency and nothing more. - If you later notice you are missing for example the libre office installation, just install the libreoffice package.

If you know exactly which software you want, just install the corresponding package. If you don't know exactly which one you want, feel free to explore all the alternatives and find the one you like best.

This is kind of the difference between ubuntu and debian: If you want just the one standard desktop, go with ubuntu. If you want to choose by yourself go with debian. (Alright, you can choose with Ubuntu, too, but many people just use the default configuration.)

  • because the distro I want to use is TurnKeyLinux. I want to simulate my server installation locally, but with GUI installation added. Oct 20, 2013 at 12:08

Well, one somewhat arduous way to do it would be to visit the description for the ubuntu-desktop package, go down the list of dependencies, and install them all by hand. Most of the depended-upon packages are available in the generic Debian archives.

A slightly less arduous way would be to download the ubuntu-desktop package from the above link and attempt to install it using dpkg -i. This will initially fail because not all the packages it depends on are available from the generic Debian repositories (such as most of the ubuntu-* packages). dpkg will print a list of dependencies it can't satisfy. Go back to the Ubuntu repositories, download the missing packages (ensuring compatible version numbers), and install them using dpkg -i. Repeat until dpkg stops complaining.

Naturally, because these packages are custom-installed, the package managers (synaptic, aptitude, et al) won't be able to track or download version updates. You'll have to do that entirely on your own.

EDIT: Hmm. It occurs to me that you might actually have been asking, "How do I update the GUI environment Debian uses?" Unfortunately, that's somewhat more complex to answer, as Debian can be installed with various desktops (GNOME, KDE, XFCE, LMDE) or even no desktop, instead installing a bare window manager such as twm.

In each case, there's usually a top-most package that depends on all the subordinate packages. For example, the Debian package gnome installs most of the GNOME desktop. cinnamon installs the Cinnamon desktop (a GNOME fork, principally used by the Linux Mint distro). Likewise, the kde-standard package appears to get you the KDE desktop suite (although I'm not a KDE guy, so I can't confirm this).

If you want to be really pedantic about it, fire up aptitude, find the top-most desktop package you're using, and press + upgrade it. Then press d to reveal all the packages it depends on. Work your way down the list and + each of those as well.

  • my base installation is text-mode, kind of like server-installation and I want to add desktop GUI on top of server installation. Oct 20, 2013 at 12:15

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