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So I've a feeling this is a very noob question but...

Is the only difference between flavors of Ubuntu the graphical interfaces and installed packages? Will they all be equally capable of running 3rd party programs, i.e. Chrome, Dropbox, Android Studio, Steam, etc?

I've a new PC on which I live tested Ubuntu 16.04 and it runs fine. However, I don't care for Unity and if Xubuntu/Lubuntu are lighter weight does that just mean I'm just sacrificing visuals for performance? Ubuntu 16.04 is the commercial release(?) so is its specific set-up just a little more reliable? Don't quite get Linux yet,there's so much choice I'm confused!

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  • Yes, all flavors can run all programs. You are correct that Lubuntu and Xubuntu are lighter.
    – Pilot6
    Oct 6, 2016 at 22:46

2 Answers 2

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To simply answer your question, yes, all flavors can run all programs. There are a lot of choices for types of Ubuntu you want. Each one provides a different purpose for the user. These can be seen on the official page for the different flavors:

  • Kubuntu - KDE Plasma Workspace
  • Edubuntu - Designed for schools
  • Xubuntu - XFCE Environment with light desktop environment
  • Mythbuntu - Designed for MythTV based PVR system
  • Ubuntu Studio - Designed for handling multimedia creation
  • Lubuntu - Fast, lightweight, energy saving, LXDE environment
  • Ubuntu GNOME - GNOME Shell instead of Unity
  • Ubuntu Kylin - Ubuntu targeted towards Chinese users
  • Ubuntu MATE - Simple, traditional desktop - GNOME 2 Desktop

After reading through this and possibly on some community recommendations, you can tell which one is for you. The difference besides style and pre-installed (note the difference between what it can run and what it comes with) programs is only noted in two official flavors:

  • Xubuntu
  • Lubuntu

Both of these flavors are more optimized for less intensive resource consumption. Although, they do have the same potential as the other flavors. Hope this answer helped you with deciding which one you should get.

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  • Okay, but when you single out Xubuntu and Lubuntu's optimisation do you mean that they may not run some heavier programs as well as the others? I quite like how Xubuntu is laid out so if it's faster and can still run everything just as well I'll probably stick with that. However if it's somehow tweaked and might not run heavier stuff as well I'll prob just deal with the main Ubuntu release.
    – foofecker
    Oct 7, 2016 at 21:37
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    @foofecker It's not tweaked. It has the same potential as all of the others, but the settings and packages it comes with are what make it light-weight. These things include less flashy things that are included in other versions such as desktop animations, icon packs, etc.
    – TheOdd
    Oct 7, 2016 at 21:40
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I think I can understand your confusion because people use the word 'Linux' to refer to several related things. A very simplified description that is 'right enough' but not completely right in several or many technical details:

  1. 'Linux' can refer to the Linux kernel. The Linux kernel is a highly technical computer program that runs as a computer operating system. When a computer is turned on, the Linux kernel starts up and waits for other programs to ask it to do work such as connect to a network or read a file from a disk.

  2. 'Linux' can refer to the Linux kernel plus a mostly standard set of programs for interacting with the kernel. The mostly standard set of programs often come from the GNU project and replicate tools that were (and are) commonly found on UNIX computers. These include big tools like the text editors Vim and Emacs; shells like Bash; and common shell programs like cd, ls, grep etc.

  3. The bundling some programs with the Linux kernel is called a 'Linux distribution' or 'distro'. Ubuntu 16.04, Ubuntu 15.10, Kbuntu 16.04, etc. are different Linux distributions and each bundles a different set of programs with the Linux Kernel. It is probably helpful to think of Ubuntu as a family of Linux distributions. Fedora, Mint, Arch, and Debian are examples of other families of Linux distributions (Ubuntu is a family within the Debian family).

To a first approximation any Linux program will run on any distribution. Often a particular program will be available as a binary executable using the package manager (apt for Ubuntu and other members of the Debian family). The package manager figures out what other programs are required to run the program being downloaded, which of those dependencies are on the computer already, and retrieves any that are not.

Even when no binary executable is available, the source code usually is and the program can be compiled by the user's computer to create a binary executable file. Compiling from source usually requires opening a command shell and running a script or running make. These days, that doesn't count as being user friendly and it can take a while. On the other hand, compiling from source makes a vast number and diversity of computer programs available on wide variety of computers.

Ubuntu and other Linux distributions are not as easy to use as the operating system on a smartphone. However, the basic ways in which a person can control Linux are roughly the same as they were twenty five years ago and fairly similar to the ways in which Unix systems could be controlled forty years ago.

So while it takes a relatively long time to work my way through the confusion, almost everything I learn about Ubuntu and Linux is not going to become obsolete when the next version comes out.

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