What’s the Difference between Linux and Ubuntu?

If you just discovered the Linux world, it might be tough to understand the nuances of the vocabulary used in this space. Linux and Ubuntu seems the same thing, but it is not, that’s what we’ll see in this article.

The main difference between Linux and Ubuntu is that Linux is only the system kernel, the main component. Each distribution then use it as a foundation. Ubuntu is one of these distributions, using the kernel and building a complete operating system on top of it.

If you want more details after this short answer, keep reading to discover how it works exactly.



The Linux kernel is a free and open-source, monolithic, modular, multitasking, Unix-like operating system kernel.


To explain this more clearly, Linux is the name of an operating system but especially the name of the main component: the kernel.

A kernel is the core source code in a system that interact with the hardware (CPU, RAM, etc.).
An operating system is then built around this kernel, adding pieces of software to do all the other main tasks (boot, graphic interface, background services, etc.).

Linux history

Linux has been created in 1991 by Linux Torvalds.
He created it as a hobby, and after a few months was joined by other contributors.
In 1994, the Linux 1.0 version was released.

Linux has now over 30 million lines of code, over 1500 contributors and is supported by major companies like Intel, Samsung or IBM.

Who owns Linux?

Linux has no owner in itself. Linus Torvalds is the creator and lead developer of the project, but it’s an open-source software, available for free for anyone.

The penguin is often used as a symbol for Linux

The source code is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPLv2). This license implies that anyone can download, modify and redistribute the source code. There is no limitation, except the fact to release it with the same license.

Linux vs Unix

Unix and Linux have many common points, but it’s not the same thing.

Unix is an older operating system, created in the 70s by AT&T. Unix is not open source. It was mainly distributed for servers, with distributions like Solaris, AIX and SunOS. It is hardly used any more nowadays. Some companies may have old servers running on it, but new servers are almost always shipped with Linux or Windows.

Linux vs Windows

In summary, Linux is a free and open source operating system with full access to the source code while Windows is a commercial operating system, running on a proprietary source code.

Even if both operating systems can be seen as similar from a user point of view, there is absolutely no common point between them. They don’t have the same source code, architecture and software. The goals are also entirely different, as Microsoft owns Windows and want to make profit with it. Windows is a paid product (check the current price on Amazon) while Linux is free for all.

Linux usage

Linux can be used by desktop users, but its main usage is for servers: in a company or web servers for example. Linux is also used in most embedded devices like routers, smartphones and cars.

On desktop, 75% of users are using Windows, 16% on macOS and only about 2% for Linux (source: statCounter).
Linux is often seen as not intuitive enough for users, we could discuss this, but the main strength of Linux is the stability. That’s why we almost all websites are hosted on Linux servers (96% of the top 1 million websites according to ZDNet).

And as you probably know, the smartphone market is dominated by Android, that is based on Linux (about 80% of the phones are based on Linux).



Ubuntu is a Linux distribution based on Debian and composed mostly of free and open-source software.


So, to explain this definition:

  • Ubuntu is based on Linux: it used the Linux kernel as a base element
  • It’s a Linux distribution: a set of packages built around Linux to deliver a complete operating system to the end user. These packages are for the most part free and open-source too.
Many distributions are also based on Ubuntu (source: Wikipedia)

Who created Ubuntu?

Mark Shuttleworth, a South African billionaire, launched the Ubuntu project in 2004. The goal was to create an easy-to-use alternative to Debian for desktop users.

He created the Canonical company the same year, to manage this project. The first version was released in October 2004. Since this date, Canonical releases a new version twice a year: in April and October.

Ubuntu values

The name “Ubuntu” hasn’t been chosen at random, it means “humanity” and can be translated as “I am because we are”.

Nelson Mandela had been asked to explain what Ubuntu means to him, I think it will be better to read his definition rather than mine:

A traveler through a country would stop at a village, and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so to enable the surrounding community to be able to improve?

Nelson Mandela

What is Ubuntu used for?

Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux distribution on Desktop because there is an easy-to-use graphic interface, that looks a bit like the one on macOS. Also, there are two major updates each year, bringing new software and updates.

But Ubuntu also has a server version available, without graphic interface, that can be a good choice. Against Debian and other distributions, it’s often a choice between updates and stability. In some cases, it makes senses to prefer Ubuntu.

Is Ubuntu free?

As most open-source software, Ubuntu is free to download and use. They offer commercial support, targeting companies that could be interested in this service, but most users will use this distribution at no cost.

Ubuntu has always been free to download, use and share. We believe in the power of open source software; Ubuntu could not exist without its worldwide community of voluntary developers.


How does Ubuntu make money?

Canonical, the company behinds Ubuntu, makes money by selling support services, some paid software available in the Ubuntu Software Center and donations.

Canonical also work with major companies like Dell. Dell sell computers with Ubuntu installed on them. As the system is free, Dell can sell them cheaper and buy the services of Canonical for users support.

Canonical sways between profit and loss for a few years.

YearTotal RevenueNet Result
2017$126M$9M loss
2018$97M$11M profit
2019$119M$2M loss
Canonical Revenue in the last few years

As a comparison, Red Hat, a concurrent distribution, has made over 3 billion dollars in revenue in the last years. So, even if Ubuntu is a solid competitor in the Linux world, Canonical is not the most profitable company at all. There are ten times more servers running on Ubuntu than Red Hat, but Red Hat is way more expensive.

Differences between Linux and Ubuntu

Kernel vs Distribution

Linux is the base of an operating system. In general, we only speak about the kernel when we talk about Linux. The kernel is the core component of an operating system.

Ubuntu is a Linux distribution, it uses Linux and build an intuitive operating system for the end user around it. It will add a graphic environment, useful software like Firefox and LibreOffice and many drivers so that it will work directly. The Linux kernel doesn’t do all of this.

Main goal

The main goal of Linux is to build the main brick of an operating system, that can be used reliably on distributions like Ubuntu.

Ubuntu has the end user in mind while Linux work for the operating system developer.


Linux is the base of many distributions used on servers, smartphones and cars. Ubuntu is one distribution, mostly used on desktop computers.

Comparison table

DefinitionThe kernel, the core component of Linux based operating systemsA complete distribution, including software and drivers for the end user
GoalInteract at a low-level witht the computer hardwareProvide an inuitive interface to the end user
UsageUsed a an essential brick in all distributionsUsed as a complete operating system on desktop PC and servers
Creation date19912004

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