Linux distros are advancing everywhere. Not only servers but also on the desktop pc and notebooks. There are wild discussions, if Linux-Distributions are ready for serious business work or personal use. This critical review will deal with two long awaited Linux-distributions, Fedora Core 3 and Ubuntus Warty Warhog. Why these two? Because both feature Gnome 2.8 and it would not be a comparision on equal terms to compare Gnome to e.g KDE. Also, both use kernel 2.6.8+ and have their very own theme for the default desktop. Bluecurve for Fedora and Human for Ubuntu.
I will test these distributions on the following machines: A 1,2 Ghz AMD Desktop PC with 512 MB Ram and a 40 GB harddisk, 16 MB ATI Mach64 Rage II graphics, Samsung 76E Monitor, and a CDROM drive and CDROM burner, both from Samsung. Network Connection is a Realteck 10/100 Ethernet card, connected to the ultimate test: a not so easy D-Link DSL 564t-Router. The second machine is a ESC 1,8 Ghz TM5800 processor notebook with 256 MB Ram and a 30 GB harddisk, a 64 MB Nvidia graphics card, a DVD-burner and again a Realteck network card plus a WLAN card that will not be used in this test, because there was no wireless Router available for this test.
How do you get the Systems? Both Ubuntu and Fedora are available via download. But unless you have broadband, downloading might be a pain. This is especially true for Fedora, which ships with four CDs plus a rescue-CD. Ubuntu uses only one CD, which is somehow more “user-friendly” but we will discuss this later.
For both systems, there is the alternative of ordering the distros online. Ubuntu will ship them to you for free if you cannot afford them and you can also get a live-CD, something that is not in stock for Fedora, but Fedora is (opposed to Ubuntu) available in shops in the “Red Hat Magazine” which features stable Fedora versions with patches included. It is up to the user to decide who the personal winner is, but in this review, this is a draw.
What do you get? – Preinstall
Fedora ships with 5 CDs, Ubuntu with one. Thus you get a big choice of apps you can try on Fedora, including alternative Desktops like the fast XFCE4 or the ultra-popular KDE. You also get software for running servers, compiling software or alternative Webbrowsers. Lots of choices. Ubuntu gives you a pre-selected package of tools and apps. You get a basic system but can add thousands of apps later via apt-get/synaptic, once the system is installed. The basic apps-selection in Ubuntu is very good and well thought, but the lack of choice is something that might upset some users that are used to “free selection”. For Server purposes, there are not enough tools included with Ubuntu, but for a basic office desktop, the package selection is perfect.
Due to the big amount of packages available during the install-procedure, Fedora wins in this category.
The installation was successful on both machines and no complications arose although the user-forums of boths systems report several problems. Especially Fedora seems to be more bug-ridden than Ubuntu. Users comlpained mainly of kernel-panics, media-file problems and networking woes. In Ubuntus forums, most questions related to software/media problems. So stability seems to be definitely better on the Debian based Ubuntu system.
Fedora installs with the Anaconda installer that is very easy to use. Point and click and you are done. The only thing that surprised here was the partitioning tool. On distrowatch, ReiserFS was mentioned as a supported filesystem. But the partitioning tool does not offer the option of using ReiserFS but only gives you the option of using ext2 and ext3 for Linux. The test on an already existing ReiserFS partition revealed that ReiserFS can be used IF it is already in place but formatting to ReiserFS seems to be impossible, which is a pity.
Ubuntu comes with a text-install (same as the “new” Debian text-installer) which is not bad at all. It gives you a lot of options for setting up your system although there is no package selection. The big plus here was the partitioning tool that worked extremely well and offered a lot of file-formats. You definitely get a bit more control in Ubuntu than in Fedora (or at least you have the impression) and it is a powerful tool if used by someone who is a little adept with installing operating systems but for someone who is completely untrained, anaconda would be a better installing-system.
3. First booting
Both sysmtems use grub as default for booting. Ubuntu has a somehow better “system-auto detect” than Fedora. Although Fedora detects a Windows ME partition and adds it to the menu, Ubuntu also detected Fedora and thus added Windows ME AND Fedora to the grub-menu. A big plus for Ubuntu.
Fedora looks like its predecessors and shows a nice graphical boot, while Ubuntu is bare naked. While Fedora looks “sweeter” for most users, Ubuntu definitely boots faster. A first login shows the “personal note” of both systems. Fedora sports the well known Bluecurve theme and with the new default wallpaper, it might be a bit too dark for many users but the Desktop is overall very polished, reduced to the important stuff and thus ready for your every day work.
Once you log into Ubuntu, you are not presented with one of the popular “blue” desktops but a earth colored “human” design. The Ubuntu desktop is more tweaked than Fedoras. the dustbin is placed in the lower panel, thus saving space, the other desktop-icons (Desktop, Computer,..) are removed and placed under the “Computer” section of the upper panel. This is an intelligent move because most of the time, windows are open and cover the icons on the desktop anyway. With the icons placed in the panel, you get a fast access to these apps even if your desktop is crowded.
Winner with a slight margin: Ubuntu
4. Exploring the system – Office
Both Dekstops ship with Firefox as default browser and Evolution as mail-client. Integration was done nicely in all aspects of the desktop. Also, both systems ship OpenOffice, the workhorse for any serious work. OpenOffice starts a bit faster in Fedora and features a nice bluecurve splashscreen. While the customizations done to OpenOffice like the language-implementation for the menu are optically nice, it all has a drawback: bugs are more likely to happen. And this is the big problem here. Fedoras OpenOffice crashes the whole (!) system everytime you start to use the spellchecker. This makes the officesuite hardly usable for everyday work.
An update to this bug is still on the waiting list. And talking about bugs: Fedoras “up-to-date” messenger informed instantly about new updates that were available from Red Hats mirrors to sort out bugs. Quite a surprise as twelve updates were already available on the very first day, Fedora was on the mirrors. But downloading and installing seemed to be tricky. The update tool crashed several times for no apparent reason. Same with using the “yum” tool from the command line. A look on the net revealed that the popular apt-get tool of Debian (which is used by default in Ubuntu) was already available for the new Fedora. Installing the rpm was easy and apt-get worked a lot better than yum. Selecting and deselecting software packages via the normal (out of the box) menu resulted in messages that nothing can be installed or removed. A bug? It seems so.
Ubuntus OpenOffice is rock-stable although it does not feature the language or graphical customizations done in Fedora. Evolution is usable and stable in both systems and nothing negative can be reported. All other applications, used in every day work are mostly bug-free (that is: no grave bugs were encountered on the notebook and the desktop during the ten-days test).
5. Media support
Here, Ubuntu really shines. Why? Because Fedora still does not give any mp3 or dvd or video support for end-users. While this policy is understandable, it is quite annoying for end-users who always have to tweak teir box in order e.g. to hear their mp3 collection. Many standard-rpms need to be replaced with the freshrpm repositories in order to use any media. The big question is: why does Fedora ship with tools like Totem or Rhythmbox at all, if they are almost completely useless? Ubuntu is better in this respect. Rhythmbox and XMMS worked out of the box, some videos could be seen, but not all. But there are more deb-packages available for download to satisfy absolutely every wish.
Something strange happened to the audio-CDplayer in Fedora. It told of a “nonexistent CDrom drive” and a rather quick exploration revealed that the audio cd is marked as /dev/cdrom, while the right entry would be /dev/hdd. But it took some time to find this quirk and correct it.
USB drive-support was quite good on both systems. No problems were encountered with digital cameras or USB-sticks, although some users reported problems with card-readers on both systems. Fedora had no problem with detecting 3 1/2″ disks, while Ubuntu had. The fstab file needed a little tweaking here, changing the “auto” entry to e.g. “vfat” but these are rather minor annoyances, if you know your way around in linux. For an untrained linux-user, such things will be a big reason for continuous frustration.
6. Administrating the system
Both distributions come with some gnome-tools for system administration. Thus they are easy to use and no big differences will show up. And indeed, they were easy to use, but again, there were some minor annoyances. Adding users in Fedora worked one time and didn’t work the next time. A search through the forum-pages revealed that several users had problems setting up new accounts. No real solution was available here. Ubuntu did not complain about adding new users.
When keeping the system up-to date, Fedora uses yum/up2date by default. These tools work quite well although up2date crahed sometimes, as mentiones before. Yum is more stable and also very easy to use but more difficult to “configure” once you want to add more mirrors. Ubuntus apt-get/synaptic package is way ahead in this respect, especially as it offers a lot more packages than Fedoras mirrors.
Installation and uninstallation of tools/apps was easy on both systems but nonetheless, it would be nice if Fedora would switch to apt-get in the future, as most users prefer it to yum and install it on their system.
Slight advantage: Ubuntu
Both systems (on desktop and notebook) were tested on a LAN-Router connection to a flatrate. The D-Link router is known to be fast but a bit quirky, especially with 2.6 kernels. Why that? there is a little problem with ipv6 and the kernel that rendered many systems almost useless on the net. Although webistes could be reached via ping from a console, websites did not show up. This grave bug does not occur on 2.4 kernels but as these are used less and less, it is a good test, how well these two distros manage to get rid of the bug.
In Ubuntu (2.6.8 kernel), webpagedisplay was nonexistent. The known way to solving this problem is to deactivate the ethernetcard, then add some dns values in the /etc/resolv.conf and then restarting the network. This seemes to work on the Ubuntu box. Websites were shown, downloads were functioning. But only for a brief time. After roughly 15 minutes, the connection was dead again and the procedure had to be done again. Very annoying. The only way to consistently solve this problem was to download (yes, apt-get was working nonetheless) the resolvconf, pump and dnsmasq packages. the pump package replaced the dhcp package and after this procedure, Ubuntu was working like hell. The network was very stable, no strange behavior appeared during the next days.
Fedora (2.6.9 kernel) had the same problem at the beginning. No web-page could be seen. But there was a small clue. In the Gnomes networking-tool, there is a checkbox to deactivate ipv6. After deactivating ipv6 and the networking card and after editing the /etc/resolv.conf, the systems was working well again. No packages needed to be downloaded (as in Ubuntu) and nothing unusual happened the following days. Maybe this ipv6 bug will be completely gone once the 2.6.10 kernel is out but until then, users need to do some tweaking with certain routers.
Slight advantage: Fedora
Out of the box, Ubuntu is the winner in this test with 6:4 points but that does not mean that Fedora is a bad distro. Both are well planned distributions that really make your everyday Linux-experience a pleasure and will likely lure many users to the Linux-world. And once Fedora adds a better media support, both distros are at equals. Ubuntu and Fedora are in certain respect the pace-setting Gnome distributions and from an end users perspective the distributions to beat (KDE-based distributions are a different matter).
About the author:
Fabian M. Schindler, 31, is a german free-lance journalist who is using Linux since several years for his everyday work after dumping Windows and MacOS8/9. He has extensively tested and used dozens of different Linux-distributions, like SUSE, Mandrake, Gentoo, or Slackware.
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