Fedora 15 vs Ubuntu Natty Narwhal – The Battle for Your Next Desktop

With the changes coming to the desktops of some major Linux distributions, it looks like we’re beginning to see some welcome differentiation between how each distro presents itself to users. Fedora and Ubuntu are of course well known as some of the most popular and user-friendly Linux systems, and while they have many similarities, their next major releases are both taking a new approach to the desktop. Ubuntu has decided to drop their Netbook spin and run their homegrown Unity desktop across the board. Fedora however has jumped on board with Gnome 3, confident that it will have all the form and function their users want. While we’ve already discussed both desktops before, Fedora and Ubuntu are both offering more than a makeover, and it’s time to dig deeper.

Note: All screenshots and information were taken based on the nightly builds and information available on the day of this writing. Both systems are heavily in development, and it’s very likely some aspects will change before release.

Fedora’s Desktop

As noted above, Fedora is going with Gnome 3 for their future releases. It’s a huge departure from Gnome 2, both in the user interface and the software behind it. Much of what you’re used to seeing on a standard Gnome desktop is, at first, missing.

fed15natty-small

Of course, as we’ve covered in detail before, there’s quite a bit more once you hit the Activities key or corner.

fed15natty-fed15activities

One major change from previous builds is that this one implements auto-workspaces. Any time you place a window in a workspace, a blank one is automatically generated for you. If you close a window in a workspace, that space is removed and any other workspaces drop in the fill the void. It’s a difficult effect to describe, so here it is in action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlGAmFex9ts

While that is completely at odds with the way I prefer to use workspaces, it is an unusual concept and I’d be interested to see how it pans out for others, and hope for myself that it can be disabled.

Ubuntu’s Desktop

As a MTE reader, you’re probably already familiar with Unity, Ubuntu’s new netbook-inspired desktop interface. Unity has been gaining attention for a while as a quick and simple desktop that lets you quickly access your common applications.

With the generally good response initial builds received, Ubuntu has been putting a lot of effort into polishing it for the Natty release. Some of the new additions include a revamped launcher (Alt-F2) screen and Expo-like workspace switcher.

fed15natty-nattylauncher

fed15natty-nattyswitcher

Fedora’s Software Updates

Fedora boasts a pretty “enterprisey” software set. You’re more likely to find a fancy new virtualization program than a 3D shooter here. That’s not to say it’s inappropriate for desktop use, quite the opposite, but expect to find some applications that might not be of much interest to a casual PC user. Still, for those who do like to know, you can expect to find:

  • LibreOffice, a “freer” fork of OpenOffice
  • BoxGrinder, a virtual appliance utility
  • Robotics Suite, a set of tools for robot enthusiasts
  • Sugar, a specialized desktop environment for education
  • Dynamic Firewall, a way to interactively manage your system firewall
  • Gnome 3, of course

Ubuntu’s Software Updates

Always aiming squarely at the casual user, much of Ubuntu’s attention for Natty has gone to interface improvements for Unity. There is of course a bit more to be found, such as:

  • LibreOffice as well
  • Improved Upstart boot system
  • Improved Ubuntu One integration
  • Ratings and Reviews in the Software Center
  • Multiple Unity tweaks

Conclusion

I’m not going to attempt to claim which is “better”. That’s far too subjective a term, and better for me may not be better for you. I will say that Ubuntu may have a slight advantage in that is has both Unity and Gnome Shell available, while Fedora (for the moment at least) does not have equivalent support for Unity. Personally I was most surprised by the changes to the way each handles workspaces. Prior to researching this article, I was solidly on the side of Gnome Shell’s workspace management, but at the moment I greatly prefer Unity’s Expo-like style to the scrolling, automatic approach currently found in Gnome Shell. Both are, of course, very new and constantly changing, so it’s likely that soon we’ll all be able to choose the best of both worlds, whatever “best” may be.