Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server

If you’re in the market for a modern, free, and widely-used Linux operating system, you might come across two versions of Ubuntu: Ubuntu Stable and Ubuntu Long-Term Support (LTS). However, it can be confusing to understand the differences between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server, and which one is the best fit for your needs. In this article, we’ll break down the essential details and help you make an informed decision. This guide is especially helpful if you’re looking to buy an Ubuntu VPS.

You will find this guide useful if you are planning to Purchase an Ubuntu VPS.

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Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server

Ubuntu offers several variants, including Ubuntu Kylin, Cloud, Core, Ubuntu Desktop, and Ubuntu Server. If you’re comfortable using the command line and SSH, Ubuntu Server should be easy to navigate. Both Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Desktop share the same kernel build and receive support from the same developers.

In this tutorial, we’ll explore the primary differences between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server. First, let’s take a closer look at what each version offers.

Ubuntu Desktop

Ubuntu Desktop is an open-source GUI environment that is ideal for home, school, enterprise, or organizational use. It’s secure, free to download, and easy to install and use. The Ubuntu Desktop comes with preinstalled utilities, and users can download additional programs via the Software Center. Although Ubuntu Desktop has a Graphical User Interface (GUI), the “terminal” command line is still used for some tasks. However, many commands can now be executed via GUI.

Compared to other distributions, Ubuntu Desktop offers more customization options. You can use third-party software or the terminal for installation. The “dash” toolbar and panel are located on the left side of Ubuntu Desktop (dashboard) and include a home button and icons for your favorite programs.

Ubuntu Desktop

Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Desktop have different user interfaces. Ubuntu Desktop uses the GNOME desktop environment and a graphical user interface that makes it easy to use with a mouse. On the other hand, Ubuntu Server operates through a command-line interface (CLI) and does not include a graphical user interface. This makes it require less RAM and processing power and is ideal for servers.

When installing Ubuntu Server, you will see a blinking cursor instead of a desktop. However, a GUI can be installed later if needed. The same app repositories are used by both Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Desktop. Ubuntu Server does not have pre-installed desktop utilities, as it is designed to be used independently.

During installation, you can choose to install software packages specific to your server type. After configuring your Ubuntu Server, you can use the command line to install apps. Some of the software packages available include LAMP server, Tomcat Java server, OpenSSH server, Mail server, Samba File server, DNS server, Print server, and Virtual Machine host.

While Ubuntu Server can handle most hosting needs, it is recommended to research different server distributions to see which one works best for your specific needs if you plan to run a server for a long time.

Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server: GUI Differences

The main difference between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server is their graphical user interface (GUI). While Ubuntu Desktop includes a GUI, Ubuntu Server is designed to operate solely through a command-line interface (CLI) and does not come with a pre-installed desktop environment.

As servers are often headless and managed remotely using SSH, they do not require input devices like a keyboard or mouse, and display configuration is not necessary. While some Linux operating systems offer a GUI, Ubuntu Server is intentionally designed to operate without one to conserve system resources and increase efficiency.

In contrast, Ubuntu Desktop includes a desktop environment and can be installed on computers that support video outputs. This makes it ideal for personal and enterprise use where a GUI is necessary for ease of use and accessibility.

Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server: Installation Process

The installation process for Ubuntu Desktop is simple thanks to its graphical installer, and you can even test it out using a live USB without installing it. However, installing Ubuntu Server is different from Ubuntu Desktop since it lacks a graphical user interface. The installation process for Ubuntu Server involves a menu-driven process.

Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server; Software Applications

Ubuntu Desktop comes pre-installed with various general-purpose software applications such as Firefox web browser and LibreOffice productivity suite.

On the other hand, Ubuntu Server offers a range of packages based on the specific needs of the server. These packages include file servers, Samba servers, web servers, email servers, and more, with packages like Bind9 and Apache2 being particularly noteworthy. Unlike Ubuntu Desktop, Ubuntu Server focuses more on providing client connectivity while maintaining security.

SSH is already enabled by default on Ubuntu Server, allowing for easy remote access from other systems. However, on Ubuntu Desktop, SSH must be manually enabled.

Performance and Hardware Requirements: Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server

Ubuntu Server performs more efficiently than Ubuntu Desktop due to its lack of a graphical user interface, freeing up resources for server-related operations. When installed with default settings on identical machines, the server outperforms the desktop. However, software can impact this performance comparison.

Hardware Requirement

In terms of hardware requirements, Ubuntu Desktop needs a minimum of 4 GB of RAM and at least 20 GB of disk space due to its graphical user interface.

Ubuntu Server operates without a GUI, allowing it to use minimal system resources. This makes it possible to run the server on a computer with only 512 MB of RAM and 5 GB of disk space. However, the amount of RAM and disk space required may vary depending on the web service being used. For instance, a web application that requires 2 GB of RAM will need at least that much RAM. Nonetheless, even with basic requirements, 512 MB or 1 GB of RAM may suffice.


The main difference between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server is their intended usage. If you want to use Ubuntu like a regular PC, choose Ubuntu Desktop. However, if you need to deploy web services, Ubuntu Server is the better choice, as it requires familiarity with the Linux command line. Ubuntu Desktop comes with a graphical user interface, making it suitable for learning Linux commands, Docker, or even setting up a basic LAMP server locally. With a minimal resource footprint, Ubuntu Server is ideal for running servers, and it outperforms Ubuntu Desktop in this regard.

Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server; Support

There is no difference in support between Ubuntu Server and Desktop editions. Prior to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, the Desktop version had a support cycle of three years, while the Server version had a five-year cycle. However, both versions now have a five-year support cycle starting with the release of 12.04 LTS.

Ubuntu Desktop vs Ubuntu Server; Kernel

The kernel used in Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server is the same since the release of version 12.04. This means that you can customize your Ubuntu flavor despite the differences in default installations. Both versions share the same fundamental Ubuntu kernel, allowing the installation of additional software packages.

When should you use Ubuntu Desktop and when to choose Ubuntu Server?

If you’re trying to decide between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server, consider the following factors:

When to choose Ubuntu Desktop:

  • If you use your computer for daily tasks and require a user-friendly graphical user interface.
  • If you need to run multimedia applications, such as video or music players.
  • If you want to learn Linux commands or use Ubuntu as a general-purpose computer.

When to choose Ubuntu Server:

  • If you want to deploy web services and require a stable and secure platform.
  • If you’re familiar with the command line interface and prefer a minimal system footprint.
  • If you want to use Ubuntu as a server and do not need a graphical user interface.

Ultimately, the choice between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server depends on your specific needs and preferences. Consider the features, performance, and usage scenarios of each one to make an informed decision.

When to choose Ubuntu Desktop

If you use your computer frequently for multimedia applications and prefer a simple installation process with a GUI, Ubuntu Desktop is the best option for you. Ubuntu Desktop can also be used as an Ubuntu server by configuring the necessary server software.

When to choose Ubuntu Server?

If you wish to run your Server headlessly, pick Ubuntu Server over the desktop version. Due to the fact that these two versions of Ubuntu use the same kernel, you always have the option to install a GUI afterward. Additionally, Ubuntu Server works well for particular kinds of servers that include packages. For instance, you can create a web server or email server using Ubuntu Server.

Select the strategy for your project that involves the least amount of work. Use the packages that your Ubuntu Server already has if they are present to configure your Ubuntu Desktop environment. Or, in a different scenario, do you need a GUI in addition to server software that isn’t offered by the default Server installation? Well, install Ubuntu Desktop and install the software you need.


Ubuntu Core is a lightweight version of Linux that is specifically designed for embedded devices like IoT devices or smart home projects. While it can function as a server, it's not the same as running Ubuntu Server on a server or desktop computer. In those scenarios, Ubuntu Server or Ubuntu Desktop would be the preferred choice. So if you're looking to set up a server or desktop computer, it's best to avoid using Ubuntu Core and opt for Ubuntu Server or Ubuntu Desktop instead.

When it comes to setting up a media server, Ubuntu Server may not be the most practical choice. Instead, Ubuntu Desktop is a better fit for a desktop computer that serves multiple purposes.

Use Ubuntu Desktop if you're configuring a server and feel uneasy without the GUI. Making a server may seem difficult, but getting started with a desktop environment might make this effort less difficult.


In this article, we have thoroughly compared Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server to help you make an informed decision on which one to choose based on your needs. If you need a reliable server with a command-line interface, choose Ubuntu Server. It works best for certain types of servers with pre-installed packages, such as email or web servers. However, if you prefer a desktop environment with a great GUI and pre-installed applications, Ubuntu Desktop is an excellent choice for you. Ultimately, the decision depends on your specific requirements, but this guide has provided you with the information necessary to make an informed decision.

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