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Which Ubuntu flavor is best suited for you?

We've reviewed all of the Ubuntu flavors and have come up with a simple guide to help you decide which distribution might best suit your needs.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer

There's an Ubuntu flavor that can satisfy just about any type of user.

foodandstyle/Getty Images

Ubuntu has been, for a very long time, one of the most popular Linux distributions on the market. The reasons for that are many but very often boil down to its simplicity of use and excellent hardware support. That doesn't mean Ubuntu is the ideal operating system for everyone. Because of this, there have been a lot of "spin-off" distributions, based on Ubuntu, that appeal to very different types of users.

I've reviewed each of these distributions and will now highlight the users I believe each of them is best suited for. Are you ready for this? Let's do it.


The default Edubuntu desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best For: Students, teachers or anyone who places a priority on education.

Edubuntu has an important goal -- to bring Linux and open-source software into the classroom. That doesn't mean you must be in K-12 to enjoy the operating system. However, what's important for users of Edubuntu is that they have the desire to learn within the fields of math, science, art, social science, and/or technology. The biggest draw to Edubuntu is the included software, which covers a wide range of needs, from architecture to space and everything in between. 

The Edubuntu distribution doesn't monkey with the basic Ubuntu UI much, so those wanting to use a more educational-centered operating system will have to become comfortable with the GNOME desktop environment. Fortunately, that's fairly easy to do. Instead of the UI looking as though it belongs in the hands of a preschooler, the desktop is the same grown-up interface you'll find on the standard Ubuntu release. However, open an app like GCompris, and -- all of a sudden -- you understand that Edubuntu is for all ages.


The Kubuntu desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone who prefers a traditional desktop with a bit of extra flare and configurability.

If you've been using the Microsoft operating system for years and don't like the idea of change, Kubuntu might be the perfect spin for you. Kubuntu uses the KDE Plasma desktop environment, which offers all the pieces you've grown accustomed to -- panel, start menu, desktop icons, and system tray. Of course, this being Linux, it offers much more than that. KDE Plasma is a highly configurable desktop, so as you grow with Linux it will grow with you.

 Another outstanding aspect of Kubuntu is that it shows off just how flexible KDE Plasma really is. There's also plenty of software pre-installed, so you'll hit the ground running with everything you need and few extraneous applications. But don't be fooled into thinking Kubuntu is just for new users. Kubuntu has plenty to offer for users of all skills. The only caveat I encountered with Kubuntu is that Samba must be installed manually if you want to share folders to your network. Other than that one hiccup, Kubuntu is a brilliant Linux distribution for all user types -- especially those who are accustomed to a traditional desktop interface.


The default Lubuntu desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone who wants to breath new life into an old PC or who simply places a priority on a lightning-fast desktop.

If you're looking for speed, Lubuntu might be the way to go. Lubuntu offers the LXQt desktop, which is lightweight and performs exceptionally well on old and new hardware. Like Kubuntu, Lubuntu offers all the usual desktop trimmings -- a panel, start menu, clickable icons, system tray…pretty much everything you're accustomed to. The biggest (aesthetic) difference is that Lubuntu will make you feel like you've been transported back to the early days of Windows 7, with minimum effects and maximum usability. 

Also: 8 things you can do with Linux that you can't do with MacOS or Windows

Ultimately, however, Lubuntu is all about speed. This desktop is fast, which makes it perfect for giving your old PC new life. So, if you have a spare PC lying around (one that will no longer support the latest versions of Windows), Lubuntu might be the ideal option.

Ubuntu Budgie

The default Ubuntu Budgie desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone looking for a MacOS-like UI and an OS that offers a bit of extra eye candy and fun.

If a clean and simple desktop is what you're looking for (and you like the look and feel of MacOS), Ubuntu Budgie might be a good option. Ubuntu Budgie does a great job of simplifying every aspect of the desktop. With a dock at the bottom and a top panel that contains the system tray and applications menu, any user would feel instantly at home on this desktop. And like MacOS, Ubuntu Budgie gives you a unified aesthetic that is just as beautiful as it is easy to use. I've heralded Ubuntu Budgie as the perfect desktop Linux distribution for those looking to finally make the move from Windows or MacOS and are looking for a free, reliable, and fun operating system. Ubuntu Budgie is all of that and more.

Ubuntu Cinnamon

The default Ubuntu Cinnamon desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone looking to migrate from Windows and wants an uncomplicated desktop that just works.

Ubuntu Cinnamon is another operating system that makes switching from Windows much less painful. This traditional desktop doesn't offer much in the way of bells and whistles and, instead, gives you a simple desktop UI that simply works. Anyone can log into Ubuntu Cinnamon and immediately feel right at home. Ubuntu Cinnamon is exactly what it sounds like -- Ubuntu with the Cinnamon desktop environment.

Also: How to easily share a printer from the GNOME desktop

This distribution borrows heavily from the old GNOME 2 desktop to make a UI that feels as close to "generic" as possible -- and that's not meant as an insult. Ubuntu Cinnamon is a classic desktop that makes using Linux very easy. So, if you're new to Linux, and have only ever used Windows, this distribution would serve as an outstanding introduction. One thing to keep in mind with Cinnamon is that it's very grounded in that traditional desktop metaphor, so if you like to tinker with your desktop, this might not be the one for you.

Ubuntu Kylin

The default Ubuntu Kylin desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone whose primary language is Mandarin or who wants a desktop that closely resembles Windows 7.

Ubuntu Kylin is geared primarily toward Chinese-speaking users. That doesn't mean, however, it's limited to only that language. In fact, Ubuntu Kylin can be configured for just about any language need you have. And language isn't the only trick up Ubuntu Kylin's sleeve. 

Also: How to install the latest version of the free LibreOffice office suite on Linux

Not only is this desktop distribution beautiful (with a decidedly Windows 7 feel), but it also includes the WPS Office Suite. Why is that important? WPS is an office suite that boasts the best MS Office compatibility on the market. I've used WPS quite a bit over the years and always come away impressed with the software. So, if you're a user who needs to collaborate with MS Office users, Ubuntu Kylin is a great choice (either that or install WPS on your Linux distribution of choice). In the end, however, the choice to use Ubuntu Kylin mostly centers around those who speak Mandarin or who are looking for a desktop that closely resembles Windows 7 at its peak.

Ubuntu Mate

The default Ubuntu Mate desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone looking to migrate from Windows but finds Ubuntu Cinnamon is too basic.

As one of the more popular Ubuntu Spins, Ubuntu Mate takes an approach to the desktop that's similar to Ubuntu Cinnamon. The reason: Both the Cinnamon and Mate desktops were very much inspired by GNOME 2, which means they're both very traditional desktops. (In fact, Mate was started as a fork of GNOME 2.)The biggest difference between Cinnamon and Mate is that Mate is the more configurable option. So, if you want a very traditional desktop that you can eventually start tweaking to make your own, opt for Ubuntu Mate over Cinnamon. Here's another aspect of Mate that draws me to it over Cinnamon: It includes an optional dock that you can use to make the interface a bit more modern.

Ubuntu Studio

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone who creates video or audio content and wants to use Linux.

This one is as simple as it gets: If you create video or audio content (either recorded or live streaming) and you want to use Linux, Ubuntu Studio is the distribution for you. This Ubuntu flavor includes all of the tools you need to create audio and video content. The only weakness of Ubuntu Studio is the video editor. Although Kdenlive is one of the best open-source video editors on the market, it cannot compete with the likes of Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro. Fortunately, you can easily install DaVinci Resolve for more pro-level video editing. Even though DaVinci Resolve isn't installed by default, the company offers a handy Linux installer, so you can get it up and running on Ubuntu Studio in no time. Once you have the power of DaVinci Resolve on your desktop, you're set for all your audio and video creation needs.

Ubuntu Unity

The Ubuntu Unity Dash in action.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone looking for a highly efficient desktop that places a priority on the keyboard over the mouse.

If you fondly remember when Ubuntu had its own, in-house desktop (called Unity), the existence of Ubuntu Unity will thrill you. I was a big fan of the Unity desktop (especially the Head-Up Display, which served as a brilliant take on the global menu) and was sad to see Canonical squander it. The Unity desktop is all about making everything not only as efficient as possible but unified. To that end, this desktop makes it much easier for you to work without having to move your fingers from your keyboard. 

Also: Ubuntu Unity relives Canonical's creativity and brings back one of the best UIs

From application menus to desktop searches to everything in between, Ubuntu Unity brings a level of efficiency to the desktop no other environment can match. So, if you long for the days when Ubuntu had something incredibly special on the desktop, this distribution is the one for you. Conversely, if you didn't experience (and love) the Unity desktop, you'd be best served to opt for a different Ubuntu flavor.


The default Xubuntu desktop.
Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Best for: Anyone who likes to tinker with their desktop and wants a blazing fast PC.

Xubuntu is an Ubuntu flavor that's a tinkerer's dream come true. Out of the box, Xubuntu might seem very basic but with a bit of work, you can make this desktop to be exactly what you want. Don't like the single top bar panel? Add a dock-like panel at the bottom for a more MacOS feel. Want a more Windows 11 feel? With a bit of work, you can have that as well. That's part of both the beauty and complexity that is the Xfce desktop. With a bit of work, you can make it look and feel like just about any desktop interface you want. 

Also: How to vastly improve sound on Linux with EasyEffects

Because of that, I don't tend to suggest the Xfce desktop to users who are new to Linux. You're going to want to have at least a cursory understanding of how the Linux desktop works before you dive into the Xfce configurations. That doesn't mean, however, that you need to be a Linux expert to use this distribution. You could install Xubuntu and never tweak a single desktop setting and still have an operating system that works extremely well (even on older computers). But to really get the most out of Xubuntu, you'll want to take it slowly and learn as you go.

To learn more about any of these Linux distributions, make sure to click the link for each and read my more in-depth reviews for all of the Ubuntu Flavors. Thanks to these official spins, there's an Ubuntu flavor that can satisfy just about any type of user.

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