Ubuntu Server vs Desktop [Detailed Guide]

The Ubuntu operating system (OS) has been around for quite a while and is arguably one of the most reliable, flexible, and secure solutions available today. The software solution is available in three main variants, the Ubuntu Desktop, Ubuntu Server, and Ubuntu Server options. 

While all of them are great operating systems, each is specifically designed for a specific application. The Ubuntu Desktop OS, for instance, is meant for ‘human-to-computer’ interactions. The Server version of the software, on the other hand, is designed for ‘computer-to-computer’ interactions. 

This being the case, the two versions differ in a number of ways, as you will learn throughout this guide. 

What is Ubuntu Desktop? 

Ubuntu Desktop is basically an alternative graphic user interphase (GUI) environment to Mac and Windows OS. Though free, Ubuntu happens to be more customizable as compared to Mac and Windows operating systems. 

However, much of the customization may require you to use the terminal or install third-party software. In its design, the Ubuntu Desktop OS features a top-positioned classic panel, as well as a Toolbar, referred to as the ‘Dash’. The only difference between this Dash and the Dashboard on Windows OS is that the Ubuntu Dash does not allow you to change the location. 

The Dash features a ‘Home’ button towards the top, followed by an assortment of customizable icons for the software. Ubuntu Desktop allows you to customize the desktop background as well as create icons on the desktop. This OS also supports graphical applications that users may need for entertainment, development, and editing tasks. 

Ubuntu Desktop

What is Ubuntu Server? 

A server is essentially a computer or program that manages access to centralized services or resources in a network. The Ubuntu Server OS version is rather basic. Instead of a GUI, the Server version of the software comes with a command-line interface (CLI). 

Following its installation, the computer display will show nothing, but a blinking cursor. At this point, you may use a command line to install the software you require on your server. While installing the Ubuntu Server software, you will be allowed to select your preferred software package. 

This allows users to install an operating system that is specific to the type of server they wish to build. This OS version is also designed to offer exceptional reliability for extended periods under high loads. 

Ubuntu Server Benefits 

The Ubuntu Server version of the OS serves as a flexible solution, that is designed to meet both individual and company networking needs. The software is suited for use in a small home network. You will also find it relatively easy to scale up to an enterprise-level network.

One thing that sets this software apart is its ability to handle multiple deployment options, including Render farms, and OpenStack. When compared to other Server Operating systems, Ubuntu Server has a number of benefits to offer, including: 

Scalability 

The Ubuntu Server operating system may be used on a minimalistic or even a standard networking application. The software allows for deployment to multiple machines, offering extensive scale-out functionality. 

This being the case, you will have a comparatively easy time adapting the software to your specific networking needs. The software is also scalable after installation to accommodate changing needs as they evolve. 

It is this hyperscale computing scalability at guarantees exceptional performance and capacity on Ubuntu Server networks. 

Regular Security Updates 

Just as is the case with the Desktop version of the software, the developer offers regular maintenance updates for the Ubuntu Server software. With this solution, you should expect to get security updates at least once every six months. 

You will also get a Standard Security Maintenance (SSM) window for up to five years. The end of this window does not necessarily mean that you will stop getting security support. The developer offers a longer-term Extended Security Maintenance (ESM) option for legacy applications.

This is often offered as part of the Ubuntu Advantage plans. Depending on the Ubuntu server software package you have, this option can extend your coverage for another five years. 

Requires Minimal Machine Resources  

Regardless of the version, Ubuntu operating systems are renowned for their efficient use of machine resources. The design of the Ubuntu Server OS does not include a GUI. As a result, the software only has modest hardware requirements. 

For instance, the minimal installation of the software requires at least 384 MBs of RAM, 300MHz processing speed, and 1.5GB of HDD space. Even with a standard installation of the OS, your hardware requirements will not increase significantly. 

According to the developer, you can actually support the Ubuntu Server OS with a little less than the minimal recommended resources. However, this may end up affecting your User Experience (UX), depending on your networking needs. 

Similarities Between Ubuntu Desktop, and Ubuntu Server

Despite their differences in design and functionality, the Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server solutions have a few things in common. Some of the similarities shared by the two operating systems include:

Kernel-Version 

Initially, the desktop and server versions of the Ubuntu operating system used different Kernel versions. The developer standardized this with the release of the Ubuntu 12.04, and later versions. Currently, both the desktop and the server versions of the software use the same Kernel. 

This allows users to add any package to either version of the software. Even if you happen to start with different default settings, you can still customize either the operating system accordingly. For instance, you may start with a basic Ubuntu server OS and set up a desktop environment. 

Similarly, you may start with a desktop environment and create a server by adding the necessary packages. 

Support 

Before the release of the Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, the developer was only offering a 3-year support cycle for the desktop OS. Following the release of the 12.04 desktop and server OS versions, the developer started offering a 5-year support cycle as standard for both the Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Desktop operating systems. 

Differences Between Ubuntu Desktop and Server Versions 

From the above definitions, you can tell that the desktop and the server versions of the software are designed for different applications. As such, they are bound to differ from one another in a number of ways. 

Discussed below are the key differences between the Ubuntu desktop and the Ubuntu Server operating systems: 

Graphical User Interface

In order to allow for easy interaction between the user and a computer, the Ubuntu desktop OS features a graphical user interface (GUI). In this regard, the Desktop OS comes with an intuitive GNOME Desktop Environment. 

The Ubuntu Server OS, on the other hand, does not come with a GUI. Instead of a GUI, the Server version of the software uses a command line for user interactions. The main reason for this is that Servers do not use such peripherals as a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to interact with the user.

Instead, Ubuntu servers are remotely managed through SSH using such utilities as Putty. 

Method of Installation 

The Ubuntu desktop software features GUI, allowing it to be installed much like any other computer software. Bounty Server OS lacks GUI, hence requires you to use a process control menu during installation. 

Again, servers often do not have conventional input peripherals. As such, the installation of the Ubuntu server OS is menu and text-driven.

Preloaded Applications

As mentioned earlier in this guide, the two software versions are specifically designed to suit different applications. This is why they come preloaded with the Apps and programs you would need in either application, as follows: 

Ubuntu Desktop Pre-loaded Apps 

The Ubuntu desktop operating system is meant to help you with your day-to-day computer use. It is designed to allow for easy interaction with your PC. 

As such, the desktop OS comes preloaded with such apps as a text editor, Libre Office, media player, and browser. The desktop version of the software is pre-loaded with commonly used utilities, such as: 

  • Firefox – This is an internet browser by Mozilla, similar to the Safari browser in Mac, and Internet Explorer in Windows OS.  
  • Gid – This is a text editing tool on Ubuntu desktop, similar to the Notepad on Windows or the TextEdit tool. 
  • Libre office – This is an office suite solution for the Ubuntu operating system. It is similar to the Microsoft Office suite in Windows OS. 
  • Thunderbird – The email client on Ubuntu desktop 
  • Empathy – This is a chat account manager utility tool 
  • Ubuntu One Music Store – This is a music store and browser on the Ubuntu platform. It is similar to iTunes.

Ubuntu One Music Store

Ubuntu Server Pre-loaded Apps 

Having been designed for a server environment, the Ubuntu Server operating system comes pre-loaded with applications suited for the application. Following the successful installation of the software, you may use a Command-Line to install the necessary applications to your server. 

As an added advantage, the developer allows you to select your preferred software package while installing the Server OS. As such, you will find it easier to install an operating system that is specific to the server type you would like to have. 

Some of the software options availed by those packages include: 

  • LAMP server – This option will select a ready-made Apache/Linux/ MySQL/PHP server for you 
  • DNS server – This package is meant to select the BIND DNS server as well as its documentation.
  • OpenSSH server – This option will select all the packages you will need to establish an OpenSSH Server
  • Mail server – This software package may be used to select an array of packages that will come in handy in a general-purpose mail server system
  • Print server – This is the software package you would need if you are building a print server 
  • PostgreSQL database – This package is designed to select both the server and client packages for the PostgreSQL database
  • Tomcat Java server – a software package that is designed to install Apache Tomcat, and its associated dependencies 
  • Samba File server – This package will set up the system to become an ideal Samba file server, which is suited for both Linux and Windows systems 
  • Virtual Machine host – This option includes the software solutions you need to run KVM virtual machines.

In addition to these pre-loaded software packages, the developer also allows you to select your preferred packages manually. In this regard, Ubuntu Server executed aptitude, which allows you to select your preferred packages manually. 

Final Verdict 

Ubuntu is, without a doubt, one of the most preferred operating systems across the globe. Despite being an Open-source software solution, their OS variants are packed with an assortment of the apps and features you need. 

The OS is available in Desktop, Server, and Cloud Versions, each of which is designed to suit a specific application. Ubuntu Desktop is meant for use in personal computers, and other stand-alone computer applications. The Server version of the software is meant for use in networking applications. 

Both software versions differ in terms of design, and capabilities. With this guide, you will have an easy time selecting the right Ubuntu OS for whichever application.

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