Fedora vs. Ubuntu: Choosing the Right Linux Distribution

fedoravsubuntu2003 was a landmark year for open-source development, chiefly, Linux development. This was the year Red Hat discontinued its popular Linux distribution and branched off into enterprise-first development with Red Hat Enterprise Edition, and a community powered Linux distribution called ‘Fedora’.

Today, Fedora is among the most popular Linux distributions and is frequently compared with Ubuntu, the reigning king of Linux distros. In a short span of time, Ubuntu has become the benchmark in usability among Linux distributions, though Fedora is catching up fast. In this article, we will compare Fedora and Ubuntu and tell you which one deserves your time (thankfully, all Linux distributions are free!).

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Fedora and Ubuntu Compared

Ubuntu, as mentioned in a previous article comparing Ubuntu and Debian, is a fork of Debian, one of the oldest Linux distributions around. Fedora, on the other hand, was spun off from an undergraduate project, called ‘Fedora Linux’, started by Warren Togami in 2002. While Ubuntu is sponsored by Canonical which periodically releases updates within six month periods, Fedora is supported mostly by the open-source community.

Below, we’ll take a look at different features, capabilities, advantages and disadvantages of Fedora and Ubuntu.

Ease of Installation

In years past, installing a Linux distribution required a PhD in Computer Science and a brain to make Einstein jealous. Not anymore. In the last few years, most Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian and Linux Mint, have done a remarkable job of easing the transition from Windows or OS X to Linux. This can be seen in the installation process, which rivals even Windows in its ease of use.

Ubuntu can be installed by burning the installation image onto a disc or downloading the package and running it from a pen drive. You can also try out the OS without installing it to your hard drive. The actual installation process is exceptionally easy, thanks to a Windows-like installation wizard which guides you through each step.

Fedora follows a similar installation process – you can burn an ISO file to a disc or copy the installation file onto a pen drive. Fedora also offers a unique way to experience the OS without installing it, called ‘Fedora Live Desktop’. This enables the user to sample the Fedora OS ‘virtually’ – a great feature for those just testing the waters with Linux.

Conclusion

There is little to choose between Ubuntu and Fedora when it comes to ease of installation. Both are easy to install and support both disc-based and USB-drive based installation.

User Interface

Ubuntu utilizes Unity as its default user interface. Unity was developed by Canonical (the parent company and principal sponsor/developer of Ubuntu) as a shell interface for GNOME. It was introduced in Ubuntu in version 10.10 and is now common across all Ubuntu versions, including the upcoming mobile/tablet OS.

Unity is a beautiful, highly usable UI that can give Windows Aero a run for its money. It supports both 3D and 2D elements and boasts a powerful notification system (which was the inspiration for the notification system in both Android and iOS).

Fedora, on the other hand, still utilizes the GNOME desktop environment (v3.2.1). If you’ve ever used other Linux distros like Mint and Debian, this would be quite familiar to you. GNOME, to the uninitiated, is a GUI that is part of the GNU project and can be deployed on many different Unix-like operating systems.

Although GNOME is very familiar, it can seem a little unpolished when compared with Unity. Users migrating from Windows might also find the lack of some common features – easily resizable windows, for instance – a tad annoying.

Conclusion

Ubuntu wins this one hands-down. The Ubuntu UI is more user-friendly, easier on the eyes, and helps you get more done, faster.

Hardware Support

Hardware compatibility is one of the main reasons why Windows and OS X users steadfastly refuse to migrate to Linux, despite its price tag ($0). A lot of older hardware simply refuses to work on most major Linux distros. This problem can also plague computers with very new hardware that still isn’t supported by developers.

Ubuntu has worked extensively to improve hardware compatibility in its distribution and it shows: the OS will recognize most hardware on your computer automatically, provided you aren’t using a Pentium MMX and SD RAM. Some users do note issues with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi drivers, though that is a common complaint across Linux distributions.

Hardware compatibility issues are more pronounced in Fedora, especially for new graphics cards and motherboards. Fedora also has issues detecting Wi-Fi drivers.

Conclusion

Ubuntu’s better hardware compatibility is an important point in its favor – it is simply easier to setup as you won’t need to hunt for dozens of different drivers.

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Software Availability

The two most popular Linux distributions are Debian and Ubuntu. Ubuntu itself is based on Debian, which means that there is plenty of developer support for the OS. Although it can’t compare to Windows, Ubuntu does boast a large library of popular software, including, but not limited to:

  • Firefox and Chrome for web browsing

  • LibreOffice as a MS Office replacement

  • GIMP as an alternative to Photoshop

  • VLC media player

  • Brasero disc burner for burning discs

  • Banshee media player

  • Thunderbird mail for managing email

  • Steam for games.

Ubuntu also supports something called Personal Package Archives (PPAs). PPAs are special software repositories that can be used to upload source packages that can later be built by a service like Launchpad. This further expands the list of software available for Ubuntu.

Gamers will especially prefer Ubuntu since it supports Steam. While you won’t have access to all Windows games, you can still enjoy a few classics.

Unlike Ubuntu, Fedora’s software library isn’t as expansive. Although it does support major Linux software like GIMP, Firefox and LibreOffice, it doesn’t have as many developers or as wide a footprint among actual users to warrant a large software library.

Software Licensing

A key difference between Fedora and Ubuntu is their perspective on software licensing. Fedora supports Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) only. This means that running for-profit software on the OS is out of the question. Ubuntu, on the other hand, supports whatever software that will run on it – free or otherwise. Depending on where you stand on the FOSS vs. proprietary software divide, you may find this a great feature or a complete turn off. What it does mean, however, is that you’ll have access to an even larger pool of software to choose from, even paid software, is you use Ubuntu.

Conclusion

Ubuntu has a larger software library than Fedora and includes most commonly used applications right out of the box, including email (Thunderbird), web-browser (Firefox) and office (LibreOffice).

Software Installation

Installing software on Linux was, and still is, a fairly challenging task, especially if you come from a Windows background. If you’re used to downloading a file, double clicking Setup.exe, and clicking through an installation wizard, be prepared for a nasty surprise: installing most software on Linux wil require you to muck around the command line.

Ubuntu makes the software installation process significantly easier with its built-in Ubuntu Software Center. Think of it as the Apple App Store. Instead of working with packages and using sudo, you can install most software with a single click of the mouse (note: most, not all). The software center also suggests new apps based on your past preferences. This takes most of the pain out of installing software – a huge plus point for Ubuntu.

Fedora features a Ubuntu Software Center-like application called PackageKit. It isn’t as extensive (or as bloated) as the software center, but it gets the job done easily enough. However, not all software packages support PackageKit, so you will have to go into the terminal periodically and use yum to install software – not exactly a task for the technology challenged.

Conclusion

Ubuntu wins this one as well – the Software Center is easy to use and makes package installation very easy. It can get a little bloated, however, which makes one miss the lightness of Fedora’s PackageKit.

Stability

If you’re coming from a Windows background, you’ll find both Ubuntu and Fedora more stable than the Pyramids of Giza. Since they are based on Linux, Ubuntu and Fedora have very few stability issues. Some users do report application crash issues with Ubuntu – not surprising considering the number of third-party apps that come bundled with it. Fedora, on the other hand, is exceptionally stable, and should be a top choice if stability is a key requirement (say, when running a server).

Conclusion

Both Ubuntu and Fedora are exceptionally stable, though Fedora is admittedly more solid than the former.

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Performance

Both Ubuntu and Fedora will feel significantly faster than Windows, especially if you limit yourself to selected software. Between Fedora and Ubuntu, there isn’t a clear cut winner in terms of performance. Ubuntu tends to start up very quickly, though its I/O performance isn’t as strong as Fedora.

According to some tests by OpenBenchmarking.org, Fedora 20 outperforms Ubuntu 13.10 in most tests, especially when it comes to working with a large number of files. For instance, Fedora scored 279.22 files/second when working with 5000 files, each of 1MB on 4 threads, whereas Ubuntu scored 184.10 files/second on the same test. The performance difference isn’t as apparent when running graphical applications; both Fedora 20 and Ubuntu 13.10 scored nearly 31.4 frames/second in an OpenArena test at 1920×1200 resolution.

Like Windows, Ubuntu and Fedora too slow down the more software you install on it, though the decrease in performance isn’t as noticeable as in Windows.

Conclusion

Fedora outscores Ubuntu in most benchmarking tests and both these distros outperform Windows.

Release Schedules

As mentioned before, Ubuntu is based on Debian. Canonical releases two versions of Ubuntu each year:

  • Ubuntu LTS: LTS stands for Long Term Support. The LTS version is the stable version of Ubuntu and is released once every 2 years. The current LTS version is 12.04.

  • Ubuntu Standard Release: Also called the ‘non-LTS’ version, this is released once every six months. The current standard release version is 13.10.

The standard release version of Ubuntu is based on the last unstable release of Debian. The folks at Canonical simply weed out all the instabilities, fix up the code and prime Debian unstable for use in Ubuntu. Ubuntu LTS, on the other hand, is based on stable releases of Debian (current v7.0), and thus, is more robust and secure.

The current version of Fedora is Fedora 19. It was codenamed “Schrodinger’s Cat” during development. Fedora is on a significantly fast release cycle as far as operating systems are concerned. There is a new version of Fedora every six months or so. Fedora 19, for example, was launched on July 2, 2013. The previous version, Fedora 18 (“Spherical Cow”) was released on Jan 15, 2013. The next version, v20, codenamed “Heisenbug”, however, marks a break in the schedule; it is set to be released a month in advance on December 10, 2013.

Conclusion

Both Ubuntu and Fedora see rapid releases, although stable releases of Ubuntu happen once every two years. This is good for users as they get access to new features, updated drivers, and fewer bugs on a regular basis.

Verdict

There’s a reason why Ubuntu boasts nearly 20M users – it is easier to use, has a better UI, and a larger software library. If you are looking for a replacement for Windows, pick Ubuntu. If you want a no-frills, pure GNOME experience and are comfortable with the slightly steep learning curve, choose Fedora instead.

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