What's the difference between the Server version of Ubuntu and the Desktop version?

  • 1
    which one is better? I have an Acer Aspire One 1gb RAM, 1,60GHZ processor... It's an old computer, but I've always used Ubuntu distros with it. I recently installed Ubuntu 12.10 and it's too slow for my computer. In addition to this, I need to install Atlas.TI to process some surveys. I've been unable to due to the 12.10 version... It worked just perfectly when the 10,04 version was intalled in my machine Thanks. Sammaël
    – user170239
    Jun 25, 2013 at 20:42

4 Answers 4


Copied as-is from Ubuntu docs:

  1. The first difference is in the CD contents. The "Server" CD avoids including what Ubuntu considers desktop packages (packages like X, Gnome or KDE), but does include server related packages (Apache2, Bind9 and so on). Using a Desktop CD with a minimal installation and installing, for example, apache2 from the network, one can obtain the exact same result that can be obtained by inserting the Server CD and installing apache2 from the CD-ROM.
  2. The Ubuntu Server Edition installation process is slightly different from the Desktop Edition. Since by default Ubuntu Server doesn't have a GUI, the process is menu driven, very similar to the Alternate CD installation process.
  3. Before 12.04, Ubuntu server installs a server-optimized kernel by default. Since 12.04, there is no difference in kernel between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server since linux-image-server is merged into linux-image-generic.
  4. For Ubuntu LTS releases before 12.04, the Ubuntu Desktop Edition only receives 3 years of support. This was increased to 5 years in Ubuntu LTS 12.04 In contrast, all Ubuntu LTS Server Edition releases are supported for 5 years.
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    So basically, server and desktop are the same except server has Apache and desktop has a GUI. Feb 22, 2019 at 15:59

It's worth noting that other than the kernel settings, Ubuntu Desktop and Server are essentially the same distribution, just with different default package selection. They both use the same packages and respositories. If you run apt-get install ubuntu-desktop you will end up with the functional equivalent of Desktop Edition.

That also means that any package that's intended for Ubuntu Server will run just as happily on your desktop installation.


Whether you install using a server CD, or a desktop CD, you end up with the same Ubuntu. The difference is in what selection of packages it installs by default - that is - what software selection you end up with at the end of the installation process.

It is possible to move from a desktop system to a server system and vice-versa on an already-installed copy of Ubuntu. Ubuntu even makes it relatively easy with the tasksel utility or with meta-packages like ubuntu-desktop and ubuntu-server (available through the standard apt package manager at least as of 16.04). You can even mix and match - installing a desktop environment on a server or server software such as ssh_server or apache2 on a primarily desktop computer.

But chances are, you probably already know at install time whether you want a desktop system complete with desktop environment, or a server system. So having different installation CDs for server and desktop is simply a convenience factor that makes software selection just a bit simpler.

The installers also behave differently, in the sense that only the "desktop" version installs from a graphical Live CD. The other versions install using a menu-based installer similar to Debian's installer.

  • At least in 10.04, I can find no ubuntu-server package. Though it might have been cool, you probably want to just just install the servers you want anyway. Nov 18, 2013 at 20:50
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    I've updated my answer. You use tasks (via tasksel) rather than meta-packages to install the server packages. Run sudo tasksel for user interface or install individual tasks via command line like sudo tasksel install lamp-server. List of other tasks available at help.ubuntu.com/community/Tasksel Note that these are groups of packages designed for a "starting point" server deployment. You may want to install packages on a more granular basis. Nov 19, 2013 at 0:34
  • I totally spaced off taskel. Still valid in 16.04 LTS. Makes server packages easily installable as well as Desktop packages. +1
    – Terrance
    Jan 16, 2017 at 15:39

Note : This is not my answer. I found this on Quora, and found that better than the ones here. Here is the original answer https://qr.ae/pNyxJm.

I will never mess up Desktop version with Server version and vise versa.

This 5 cent tip comes out from real experiences and lessons I paid with couple days time on struggling to make a use of Server version as terminal only box.

It is true that you can always add Desktop packages on Server version or vise versa. But the result are quite different from respective versions, it has many problems and troubles.

Most people noticed that the difference of packages Server and Desktop versions have, but no one pay attention that these two versions have quite different configurations. The problems of miss-use versions caused by different configuration are elided or ignored.

The Server version is meant for server. Here are at least two things that affect you when you use Server version as your daily terminal console box: It is optimized for the server, assuming always has a wired network, always are power on (it does not reboot often). So your box will have much longer boot time. If you use WiFi only machine (most new style laptops do), the Server version of Ubuntu boot-up procedure can hang on there for 3 to 5 minutes, because lot modules on server depend on network when load it, but at that stage, WiFi network is not available yet, indeed, the Server version default setting doesn’t come with whole WiFi package.

These are only two little things that could catch you and give you headache. Try searching online for Ubuntu hangs on boot…. The solution for that is cumbersome and not clean. oh, I did not mention the users you created on Server version on terminal console won’t shown-up on Desktop login GUI if later you add Desktop packages, nor the GUI Users manage utilities. …. just another issue in the list.

So I will say Server and Desktop version are different enough that you do not miss-use them, although you can add packages to get certain features from other version, you will encounter problems caused by different configuration.

Although by saying that, I would suggest to use Desktop version for most of case, adding Server packages to Desktop version won’t affect much of your daily usage experience. You can easily change setting to disable GUI and use it as Terminal console. Use the Server version for server solely.

What we really lack is Ubuntu Terminal version: A version that is light, but optimized for daily laptop terminal usages only.

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