Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ubuntu 9.04 vs Fedora 11: A lot can change in one month!

The excitement has already started in anticipation of Q2 2009 l distro releases. As usual, the big names are Ubuntu 9.04 (a.ka. Jaunty Jackalope) and Fedora 11 (Leonidas). It's time for a straight off comparison on the upcoming features of these two distros.

I have not mentioned minor version numbers of most packages, since it is subject to change in the final release.

Fedora 11

Ubuntu 9.04
  • Code named Jaunty Jackalope
  • Scheduled Release Date: April 23, 2009
  • Current Status: Alpha 6, Beta to be released on March 26 2009
  • Current Status: Beta, Release candidate on April 16th
  • Release Schedule

Linux Kernel
Ubuntu - 2.6.28
Fedora - 2.6.29

The latest kernel 2.6.29 has already been released. Seriously, I really wonder why it hasn't been included in Ubuntu. For example, the Fedora guys released alphas with the development version of 2.6.29 kernel, whereas the Ubuntu alphas are all stable 2.6.28 kernels!!! That's a bit of a under-utilization of alphas...

(Edit: Clarification: It is rather common for alphas to include development versions (like Gnome 2.25), or kernel -rcs. If the alphas for ubuntu had carried the -rc versions of the kernel (like in the 8.04 release), the beta would have carried the stable 2.6.29 version now)

The 2.6.29 kernel comes with a lot of improvements, the most important being Kernel modesetting support for flicker free graphics, better memory management, WiMAX, etc and is a worthy upgrade.

Advantage: Fedora

Window Managers

Both Ubuntu and Fedora
ship with the latest versions of Gnome 2.26, KDE 4.2 (in Kubuntu) and XFCE 4.6 (in Xubuntu).

Advantage: None

Ubuntu - 3.0
Fedora - 3.1

I've been using Firefox 3.1 beta on my laptop, and it feels better than Firefox 3.0. Though there are no visible differences in terms of GUI features, there are a lot of under-the-hood enhancements like HTML 5 Video tag support, CSS 3 support, TraceMonkey JIT for better javascript performance, etc.

Advantage: Fedora


Ubuntu - 2.0
Fedora - 3.0

Fedora again leads the pack. Thunderbird 3.0 now mainly has tabbed messages, folders and calendars, which definitely gives a cool look. Other than that, there are improvements in the address book, addon management, message reading and IMAP handling.

Advantage: Fedora

Ubuntu - 3.0
Fedora - 3.1

Fedora's affinity for cutting edge seems to reflect here as wel
l. OpenOffice 3.1 mainly has better anti-aliasing for text and images, various appearance improvements, accepting or rejecting recorded changes in revisioned documents, various performance improvements and bug fixes.

Ubuntu already showed a little neglect for OpenOffice in its previous Intrepid release, by packaging an older 2.4 version instead of the newly released 3.0 version. Now it is playing catch up, and is bundling the 3.0 version. Anyways, OpenOffice 3.1 Release Schedule is later than Ubuntu's, and probably just in time for Fedora.

Advantage: Fedora, by pure timing

Default File System
Ubuntu - default ext3
Fedora - default ext4

Although both distributions support ext3, ext4 and the developmental btrfs and squashfs, I'm still quite afraid of ext4 - the newcomer - specially because of a lot of developers are still arguing on how to handle data corruption. Even Linus himself seems to be at a disarray in this. By making ext4 as the default, Fedora is certainly risking a lot.

Advantage: Ubuntu

Boot Process
Ubuntu - usplash
Fedora - plymouth

After experimenting without major problems with the Plymouth project in the last release, Fedora 11 is now starting to mature in this area by developing more boot plugins. Plymouth offers a flicker free boot process, with no blanking of screen between the boot splash and the GDM Login Screen.

Ubuntu is still sticking with usplash, but pimping it up with a new boot splash animation. They will upgrade to Plymouth in the 9.10 Karmic Koala release.

Advantage: Fedora

Package Management

Ubuntu - APT, Synaptic
Fedora - Yum, Synaptic, Packagekit + Delta RPMs support

PackageKit is a new, distribution independent package manager available for Gnome and KDE. The most important features are, the ability to install and maintain multiple versions of the same software without disturbing existing versions, integration with policykit so that normal users can run it without requiring admin privileges, ability to create custom service packs, window manager independent, disabling when running on battery, etc. You can see some screenshots of PackageKit here.

Synaptic is the rock-solid package management solution as of today. But the problem is it exists only for Gnome, and looks plain ugly in KDE.

Fedora has added another small twist here: Delta RPMs. Previously when you are upgrading a package, say the linux kernel from version to - you had to download the full new package and it's dependencies, which easily amounts to nearly 50 MB. The actual changed code between the two versions might have been only 5 MB! Delta RPMs now allow you to download only the changed code (or delta), so you can save a dozen on your time and bandwidth. Lesser staring at the "Downloading updates" screen for the masses!

Advantage: Fedora

Notification Handling
Ubuntu - New notify-osd
Fedora - Default

Ubuntu has implemented a bold new notification handler, detailed in Mark Shuttleworth's blog. Instead of notification handling, they prefer to call it "attention management". The notifications will not be persisted, nor will have a dismiss button, nor any action buttons.

I'm two minds on this. Until today I've clicked on the "Read" button on my mail notifications to load up my GMail. Now all I get is just a snazzy animated notification which doesn't stick in my desktop. If I'm chatting with my co-worker (which I do most of the time), then chances are I'll be a lot less productive with my mails.

Fedora lets the window manager take care. Nothing radical.

Advantage: Ubuntu
(You can take a look at a screencast of Ubuntu notifications, and decide for yourself whether it will suit you or not. I think it is a matter of personal choice, but I'm giving the advantage to Ubuntu for thinking differently and being bold)

Volume Control
Ubuntu - gnome-media
Fedora - gnome-media

Now it's Fedora's turn to be daring. It has implemented a new volume control called gnome-media, but the main difference here is that, instead of simplifying things, it has offered more options. All of you who have used gnome-volume-control are sure to tell tales of its usability. The new volume control has more features to talk about, can control audio for individual applications, integrated sound themes, and nice segregation into four tabs.

Ubuntu sticks with the default gnome-volume-control.
Fedora's work has landed upstream and has been merged with Ubuntu alphas. Thanks to RalfN for pointing it out

Advantage: Both
(You can take a look at the screenshots of Fedora Volume Control and decide for yourself whether it will suit you or not. I think it is a matter of personal choice)

Although the 2.6.29 kernel holds a lot of new features like KMS, there is still a lot of talks and rumors of regression - which means the performance may actually go down instead of up because of newly introduced features. Specially with KMS, a lot of people are reporting lesser frame rates and slower desktop effects. Whether this is true or not - can only be verified after the release. KMS also supports only Intel drivers as of now, although Fedora is planning to include patches for NVidia's new Noveau driver. ATI has pulled itself out of the game by delaying release of new drivers and phasing out old drivers.

Fedora has already worked to improve boot time in Fedora 10, in the name of "30 second boot". Now they are working to further shorten it as "20 second boot". The progress has been good, and you can take a look at the test results with various system configurations.

Ubuntu, not to be left behind, is working to have "blazingly fast" boot time, and the alphas have reported positive results.

Advantage: Ubuntu
In this situation, I'm giving advantage to Ubuntu, purely due to the probability of regressions in Fedora's kernel. I'll make a new post when the two distros release)

Common Software
Samba, NetworkManager, HAL, DeviceKit, X.Org, have all been updated to the latest versions in both distros.

Developer Specific
Fedora has updated GCC to version 4.4. It has also included latest versions of NetBeans and Eclipse tools. A more radical change is that it has included cross-compiler tools for Windows programs - namely MinGW.

Fedora is also packaging the latest version of Mono 2.4, whereas Ubuntu has thus far settled with Mono 2.0.

You can take a look at the screenshots of Fedora 11 Alpha and
Ubuntu 9.04 Beta. Ubuntu sticks with the gorgeous brown Human theme, and Fedora's alphas have retained the futuristic blue Solar theme. It seems Canonical has decided to bundle four more additional themes to please the Ubuntu users.

Update: New artwork for Fedora 11 has landed in rawhide. Thanks nicu!

For many years including the release of Fedora 10, I have always noted that Fedora gives a "something missing" feeling when used. It may be a small glitch in one of their cutting edge features, or a small regression here and there, or a small unfinished piece of software (think pup or pirut), etc. But it has always been uncomfortable, or rather unsettling, when using Fedora.

With the way in which things are proceeding, I still doubt whether the unsettledness will be resolved in Fedora 11. But this is a rather important duty Fedora 11 is fulfilling, by providing a cutting edge distribution which slowly paves way for distros like Ubuntu to build upon.

Ubuntu, as usual, has been rock stable for me. That's why I still use it in my laptop without even thinking of re-installing for 6 months. And I know that the 9.04 release will also be stable.

But considering the differences - Fedora 11 seems to be a full 6 months ahead of Ubuntu. Most of the features included in Fedora 11 now (gnome-media, faster boot, KMS, Plymouth, Firefox 3.1, Thunderbird 3, OpenOffice 3.1, etc) are planned only in Ubuntu 9.10.

Ubuntu sure has some catching up to do. When Ubuntu 9.10 releases, I can't even begin to imagine how far ahead Fedora 12 will be!