Choose two GNU/Linux or BSD flavors and see how they compare in features and supported software/hardware.

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GENERAL FEATURESUbuntu is an ancient African word meaning "humanity to others". A distribution f(o)unded by Mark Shuttleworth and sponsored by Canonical Ltd. is currently one of the most popular GNU/Linux flavors. It's only for linux n00bs!Debian is a stable, mature and popular operating system. It offers an outstanding package management tool -- APT and the largest free software repository of all operating systems out there. Very configurable and (after some work) a very friendly OS. It does however require some knowledge.
Supported architecturesamd64, i386, ppc Alpha, ARM, HPPA, IA64, MIPS, PPC, S390, SPARC, X86 (i386/amd64)
Minimal hardware requirementsFor text-mode: <192 MB RAM, 450 MB hard drive
For graphical-mode: >256 MB RAM, preferable at least 2 GB HDD
Software freedom statushave been present in Ubuntu since the very beginning. The idea is to provide non-free drivers only in case that free drivers do not exist or are of significantly of lower quality. Ubuntu provides a monit when enabling proprietary drives, giving users the freedom not to use them. Nevertheless, Debian has a non-free repository which includes things like proprietary drivers or pov-ray, and a contrib repository for packages which in themselves are DFSG-free, but depend on something in non-free or outside Debian. This is the reason why FSF does not officially recommend Debian as a free distribution. However, Debian's main archive is the only one enabled by default, and it is completely DFSG-free and completely self-contained and this is why it is listed as a "free as in freedom" distribution here.
Installer - overall(8) Since Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake), a graphical installer has been available with the Live-CD edition. The installer is fast and asks a small number of questions. It's one of the easiest Linux distributions to set up for a newbie user. Ubuntu's alternative text-based installer is based on Debian's text installer. It adds a few new screens in expert mode, and removes a few in novice mode, making it even simpler to install the system with default setting. The defaults are: latest GNOME with a selection of GTK software. Since Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon), the alternate-CD installer allows for encrypting the hard drive during the installation.(7) New Debian Sarge installer focuses on non-technical users and it does a very good job in making the Debian installation process as easy for them as possible. For expert users more options are available so that everyone can choose their way to install Debian. Overall Debian installer is very functional, mature and bug-free. Lately, a graphical installer arrived (still in beta) which makes it even more friendly for the non-techies.
Package selection(2) Not available. You can however install additional packages before running the Live-CD installer (graphically or using apt-get). Every package you install before running the main installer will appear in your final installation.(5) Aptitude is available during installation, all packages are grouped and well-described. It is not as eye-candy as Fedora's or openSUSE's package selector but it sure works.
Predefined package groups(2) Desktop or server installations are available. No package group selection.(6) There is a possibility to choose package groups, like: desktop environment, database system, programming environment, etc.
Expert mode install(8) Expert/Beginner and kernel 2.4/2.6 choices.(8) Expert/Beginner
Graphical installer(6) Available since Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake). The older text (dialog-based) installer is also very simple and is more suitable for custom installations for advanced users.(0) The default text (dialog-based) installer does its job very well. The graphical installer (still in beta) is a functional copy of the console installer in GTK+.
Installer speed(6) The Live-CD installation is pretty fast. The installer only asks a few questions and then copies the entire Live-CD image to the disk, configuring the hardware and the boot menu. The legacy (alternative) installation process is rather slow. Default installation took 35 minutes on 1.6Ghz, 1GB RAM laptop. On the same machine.(2) Installation process is slow (standard one can take even up to 40 minutes) -- all packages go through the autoconfiguration procedure. Of course, the base system installs faster, but choosing this option means you have to install all additional packages manually.
Graphical system management(5) Ubuntu does not provide a disto-specific Control Panel (like in SuSE or Mandriva). Still, a lot of Ubuntu-specific tools have been added to the default GNOME desktop: the update notifier, update and installation manager (similar to Windows' Add/Remove Software application), an applet to mount disks, a NetworkManager (from RedHat) for wifi support, Beagle Search (Tracker since Gutsy Gibbon) integration and more.(0) No special tools.
Console-based system management(8) Very good package configuration tool - debconf - from Debian project and standard Debian configuration tools are available(8) Very good package configuration tool -- debconf. Some packages can be reconfigured by issuing dpkg-reconfigure package_name.
Number of packages(8) Except for base Ubuntu packages (built and supported by the Ubuntu team), there are official but unsupported repositories: universe and multiverse. It all sums up to over 10,000 of Ubuntu specific packages. Using alternative sources from Debian or its derivatives is not recommended (and usually not useful).(9) About 18 thousand packages in main. Debian is an absolute leader in that respect.
Package management, automatic dependency resolving(8) Dpkg, APT and aptitude - Debian package management tools are among the leading GNU/Linux tools for software management. Installing software in Ubuntu is simple and troubleless, and certainly much more pleasurable than in most distributions using the RPM format. Only Smart package manager is considered superior to APT (however, it can be used in Ubuntu as well).(9) APT -- Debian package management tool is a leader among all GNU/Linux tools to manage packages. Installing software in Debian is easy and effortless, and much more pleasant than in most distribution that use RPM format.
Graphical package management tools(8) Synaptic - a graphical frontend to APT - a software installation and update tool, very useful if someone likes to click rather than type. Also, an "Add/Remove applications" program is delivered, which is much simpler and more straightforward than Synaptic, but allows to install only the most typical desktop applications. Clicking on DEB package invokes a GNOME installation tool which resembles InstallShield known from MS Windows.(8) Synaptic -- a graphical software installation and update tool, a frontend to APT. Very useful if someone likes to click more than type. For KDE users there is also Adept Manager.
System boot-up speed(6) Thoughtful selection of services and default configuration make Ubuntu boot usually a bit faster than Debian. It's getting better with each release, but there is still some room for improvement.(5) System boot-up is slow. Slower than most of the other distributions. This is mostly due to a lot of server services loaded by default. Using update-rc.d tool to remove unnecessary services can help to make the OS snappier.
System responsiveness(7) Fair responsiveness of the system. Working with Ubuntu seems faster than with the default Debian installation, but not as fast as with one of the performance-optimized systems like PLD, KateOS or Zenwalk. Technically, packages (except for the kernel and libc) are compiled for 486, but with Pentium III (or higher) optimizations.(5) Speed/responsiveness is on an average level. Programs are not complied with optimizations by default, there is however possibility to use custom compilation flags using apt-build.
Popularity(9) Ubuntu got extremely popular during the last couple of years and currently occupies the first place in the DistroWatch rank. The creators claim that it has over 8 million users worldwide.(8) Debian, including all distributions based on it, like Knoppix, Ubuntu, Mepis, Libranet or Xandros is the most popular Linux distribution. Thus, it's easy to get help because most of the advices work in the whole family of systems.
Security focus(8) All of the key security packages (including kernel packages) are being updated on a daily basis, so if you update the system frequently, you should not have to worry about security much. Additional security tools (like SELinux or AppArmour) are not installed by default, though. There is no graphical firewall and almost no security tools in the default installation either.(8) Security is one of the Debian main goals. All of the key security packages (including the kernel package) are updated daily. So if one upgrades the system regularly (using the apt-get dist-upgrade command), the security is not an issue to worry about.
Stability and maturity(7) Ubuntu is based on Debian, which is one of the most stable and mature distributions available. Still, Ubuntu comes with fresh software and instabilities may occur. Kubuntu on the other hand is considered a bit worse in terms of stability since recent versions of KDE usually break more often that fresh GNOME.(8) Debian is one of the oldest and most mature Linux distributions. It has a stable and large community of developers, supporters and users. If one needs a mature and well-tested system, Debian Stable (and with a little more caution, Debian Testing) is the right choice.
Does the installer support multiple languages?(8) Ubuntu installer is translated into 40 languages which makes it one of the leaders in this area. Internationalization is one of the Ubuntu project priorities.(8) Debian installer is translated into 40 languages which makes it one of the leaders in the area of localization.
Is the system localized after installation?(7) The installed system is localized. The only problems may occur with QT-based applications. QtConfig app can fix this problem when installed.(6) The installed system is mostly localized. Some problems may occur with special characters and console localization. Usually, a reconfiguration of package //console-common// does the job.
Is manual system localization easy?(5) If something does not work, we should make friends with dpkg-reconfigure tool which makes it easier to change the package configuration without the need to mess up with the configuration files.(5) If something does not work, we should make friends with //dpkg-reconfigure// tool which makes it easier to change the package configuration without the need to mess up with the configuration files.
Support for restricted formats(5) You can install all the non-free packages from the multiverse repository (no officially supported but hosted at The Restricted Formats wiki entry describes the Ubuntu policy and the multiple ways of getting support for non-free packages. Using EasyUbuntu — a graphical non-free software installer is another good option here.(3) Debian does not distribute any software illegal to distribute from the USA. Patent-encumbered software such as libdvdcss and w32codecs is usually obtained from Christian Marillat's debian-multimedia unofficial repository.
Sagem DSL modem support(6) Eagle-USB has been available as a Debian package since version 4.11 (Warty Warthhog). Unfortunately, the support for Thompson modems got worse and worse with every release. Now, it's not possible to install the modem without kernel recompilation.(8) Eagle-USB is available as a Debian package so it could not be easier to install it.
Alcatel DSL modem support(6) Speedtouch modem installation is not fully automatic. Package "speedtouch" is responsible for firmware loading. Still, we have to copy the driver manually. Manual configuration is also a must.(5) Speedtouch modem installation is not fully automatic. Package "speedtouch" is responsible for firmware loading. Still, we have to copy the driver manually. Manual configuration is also a must.
Wireless support(8) System automatically detects the common supported wireless cards and looks for the wireless connections using NetworkManager (adequate icon appears on the desktop appears if WiFi is available). Of course, standard Debian tools for dealing with wireless cards are also available, so is Ndiswrapper for Windows-only cards.(4) Ndiswrapper, a program which makes it possible to use "Windows-only" hardware with Linux by means of a loadable kernel module that "wraps around" NDIS - Windows network driver - API drivers, is available through apt-get (packages ndiswrapper-source and ndiswrapper-tool). You still have to compile it to make the modem work.

Each system gets a mark from 0 (min) to 9 (max). In most cases the description precises the mark. A question mark (?) means that we do not have any information about certain feature.