Meet the Ubuntu family

Meet the buntus

Ubuntu is one of the most popular GNU-Linux based operating systems in the Linux world. But there's more to Ubuntu than Ubuntu.

Let me explain.

There are 9 members of the 'Ubuntu family' that are recognized as official flavors (i.e., Linux distributions that use the same operating system base but feature different desktop environments).

Before being recognized as an official Ubuntu flavor, each project has to go through a process.  But the efforts are worth it. There are clear advantages to being an official flavor: the projects get access to Canonical's infrastructure, which hosts main images of the project as well as direct access to the official repositories.

Without further ado, let’s meet the family...


Ubuntu is the flagship product of Canonical, which was founded by Mark Shuttleworth in 2004. Ubuntu itself is based on Debian operating system and is known for ease of use, putting a lot of focus on the ‘it just works’ experience.

Ubuntu started off as a Gnome distribution, but in 2010 after disagreement with the Gnome project, Ubuntu ditched Gnome Shell 3 and instead started developing its own shell for the desktop called Unity.

Unity is now the default shell of Ubuntu desktop. It is also being used in Canonical’s mobile operating system called Ubuntu Phone. Ubuntu has forked or tweaked some components of Gnome to make it more useful for users, or to offer consistency with the rest of the operating system.

Download Ubuntu


Kubuntu uses KDE Plasma Desktop instead of Unity and Gnome. Kubuntu, released in 2005, is one of the oldest flavors of Ubuntu. The project was founded by Jonathan Riddell, a long time KDE developer.

Kubuntu offers one of the purest Plasma experiences by not patching things heavily for Ubuntu. Unlike Unity, Kubuntu comes with KDE software and is heavily customizable by the end user. While the KDE community has its own set of applications, Kubuntu uses many GTK applications such as Firefox. Since the base is same it’s extremely easy to install and use Ubuntu apps on Kubuntu and KDE apps on Ubuntu.

Kubuntu is intended for users who want the customization and control KDE offers on top of the easy to use Ubuntu base.

Download Kubuntu


Xubuntu became an official Ubuntu flavor in 2006. This flavor uses the Xfce desktop environment. Xfce aims to be a lightweight desktop environment (DE) without compromising on visual appeal and features. It is also one of the oldest desktops, predating KDE, Gnome, and Ubuntu itself. Xfce was founded back in 1996.

Xfce uses the same libraries that Gnome used, GTK+2, which allows it to use some Gnome components. However, Xfce has written a major part of their apps, and forked only a few of Gnome’s.

Xubuntu is intended for older or low-powered hardware. It’s also popular among those who have powerful machines but want to use a lightweight flavor to better utilize system resources.

Download Xubuntu


Ubuntu Studio

Unlike most other flavors, Ubuntu Studio was created for a specific use case: multimedia production. The first version of Ubuntu Studio was released in 2007 and it was based on Gnome.

In 2011, after the arrival of Gnome 3, the project decided to switch its base to Xfce, a move that the founder of the project said would offer some "immediately tangible" advantages: "For example, XFCE represents a familiar desktop metaphor (@Fab thanks) for users and provides a more resource friendly environment than GNOME, KDE, or (I would expect) Unity."

Ubuntu Studio does more than just offer multimedia production applications. It uses low-latency Linux kernel, which is built with different configurations to reduce latency, something that is critical in cases of real-time audio recording. Users can use the appropriate kernel tree suited for their work.

Ubuntu Studio focuses on three core areas – video production, audio production and graphics. It comes with a huge list of open source applications for these three areas.

Download Ubuntu Studio

Ubuntu Gnome

Ubuntu Gnome is one of the most interesting Ubuntu flavors. This is what the flagship Ubuntu would have been had it not created Unity. For a long time, after Ubuntu switched to Unity, it was not possible to install stock Gnome on Ubuntu systems due to package conflict. At the same time ‘all’ Ubuntu users were essentially Gnome users. With the switch to Unity, many users started looking at alternatives that offered the Gnome experience, and that’s why the Ubuntu Gnome Remix project was founded in 2012.

Due to conflict between Ubuntu packages and Gnome packages and the clashing release cycle of Gnome and Ubuntu, Ubuntu Gnome tends to stay behind in releases and offers older packages of Gnome.

Ubuntu Gnome, just like Kubuntu, aims at offering a pure Gnome experience on top of Ubuntu base.

Download Ubuntu Gnome


Lubuntu is a lightweight Ubuntu flavor based on LXDE project. It became an official Ubuntu flavor in 2011. LXDE, like Xfce, is known for being light and less resource hungry -- in fact, LXDE seems to be even more resource efficient than Xfce.

LXDE itself is moving to Qt (which is also the base of Kubuntu). The project has merged with a Qt-based project called Razor-qt to create LxQt. As a result, future versions of Lubuntu will be based on LxQt. The recent version of Lubuntu, 15.10, was planned to move to LxQt, but it was delayed in June.

Download Lubuntu

Ubuntu MATE

Ubuntu MATE is the newest member of the Ubuntu family. The MATE desktop environment is a continuation of the Gnome 2 desktop paradigm. It features a UI similar to Gnome 2 while moving the now unmaintained code-base of Gnome 2 to newer technologies. The project was founded by Martin Wimpress, the maintainer of Mate for Arch Linux, and Canonical employee Alan Pope. The project claims to be lightweight.

Since the older Gnome 2 codebase is defunct and Gnome apps use the latest Gnome technologies, MATE project has forked almost all core Gnome apps -- from the file manager to the text editor, image viewer, and terminal. To avoid confusion with Gnome apps they have given new names to the forked apps: Nautilus has become Caja, Evince has become Atril, etc.

Download Ubuntu MATE


Edubuntu is another Ubuntu flavor that was developed for a specific use case – education. The project uses the LTSP thin client architecture.

Edubuntu uses Unity as the default shell, but it also offers Gnome and KDE as options. Unlike other flavors, Edubuntu is an LTS-only(Long Term Support only) project, which means it is released every two years and is supported for a longer time. The current stable releases are 14.04 and 12.04, which were released in 2014 and 2012, respectively. The next version will be released in 2016 as Edubuntu 16.04.

Download Edubuntu

Ubuntu Kylin

Ubuntu Kylin is a version of Ubuntu developed for the Chinese market. The OS replaces Kylin OS, which was developed by academics at the National University of Defense Technology in the People's Republic of China starting in 2001.

Initially the OS was developed by China to make its IT infrastructure hardened against cyber warfare. In 2013 Canonical and China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reached an agreement to co-develop Ubuntu Kylin. The OS comes with its own app store called Ubuntu Kylin Software Center.

Download Ubuntu Kylin

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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