This article originally appeared in issue 87 of Linux User & Developer magazine.
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Spring is a lovely time of year, when the flowers bloom, the birds sing and community Linux projects release the fruit of their winter labours. Specifically, the Fedora and Ubuntu projects come to the end of their six-month cycles in the April/May time frame. This year’s yield is a bumper crop, with Fedora 13 including a number of interesting technologies and improvements and Ubuntu putting on its finest polish for a Long Term Support (LTS) release.
On the surface, one might expect that there would be little to distinguish the projects, since they each comprise the same core components: the Linux kernel, GNU utilities, X.Org, Firefox, GNOME and so on. But the reality is that the raw materials alone do not a distribution make. The focus of Fedora and Ubuntu is drastically different and it shows through in many ways.
The origin and ultimate disposition of the distributions gives a clue straight away as to the intended audience. Consider, Ubuntu is based on Debian testing, pulling packages from Debian after they’ve already received some work and been put through at least a minimal amount of testing and quality assurance on the Debian side. Basically, the Ubuntu Project spends time polishing and improving bits already worked on by Debian. That’s not to say that Ubuntu doesn’t do development or innovate above and beyond what Debian does. But the entire concept of Ubuntu was that Debian provided a solid base to provide a user-friendly Linux distribution, but Debian doesn’t itself provide a user-friendly distro.
In contrast, Fedora is the precursor to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Whereas Ubuntu is a final product, Fedora itself is a staging ground for software that may ultimately wind up in Red Hat’s commercial offerings. Whereas Canonical pursues OEM deals with Ubuntu LTS releases, Fedora has an approximate 13-month shelf life, after which the project consigns the release to the end-of-life bin. In short, both projects produce usable desktop distributions, but for fairly different audiences.
As the version number implies, Fedora 13 is the 13th release coming from the Fedora Project. Lucid will be the 12th release for Ubuntu. The Fedora Project precedes Ubuntu by nearly a year, with its first release in November of 2003 and Ubuntu’s first in October of 2004.
The respective origin of each of the distros is also instructive. Fedora was offered by Red Hat as a substitute for Red Hat Linux after the company stopped its long-standing practice of releasing Red Hat Linux publicly, when it began a new product line of enterprise-focused releases. It was several releases before Fedora became a true community distribution in its own right, allowing significant community contribution and guidance.
Ubuntu, on the other hand, was designed to offer the same release to all-comers. Whether the distro was obtained from OEMs as a pre-load or downloaded by a hobbyist, Ubuntu should be the same distro. And unlike Fedora, Canonical started out with a development process that embraced the community from day one. At this point, both projects are legitimately created by co-operation between community contributors outside the companies and those employed by Red Hat and Canonical, respectively, to guide development. Let’s now take a look at how they stack up…