Ah, the age old question: which distro should I use? It often sparks controversy, as many users of different distros want you to choose their team. However, there is often an overwhelming majority of users who suggest one of two distros. This article covers Fedora vs. Ubuntu to examine which one is better for you.
The Basics of Fedora and Ubuntu
Let’s start with the basics. This article covers the newest releases of each distribution, those being Fedora 32 Workstation and Ubuntu 20.04 LTS. Both Fedora and Ubuntu are popular Linux distributions. Fedora is based on Red Hat Linux and is an upstream contributor to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Ubuntu is based on Debian, and there are many different derivatives of Ubuntu. Some popular examples include Linux Mint and elementaryOS, among others.
They are both supported by large companies: Fedora by Red Hat and Ubuntu by Canonical. This means they will be around for a long time and that there is no concern of losing support due to lack of funds. They are both quite easy to use, as they both have great hardware support coming from newer versions of the Linux kernel. They also both have hardware deals allowing you to buy a laptop with Ubuntu or Fedora preinstalled. Dell offers Ubuntu laptops with its XPS 13 Developer Edition, and Lenovo will be offering its X1 Carbon 8th Gen, P1 Gen 2, and P53 Thinkpads with Fedora coming soon.
They both use a version of GNOME Shell as their default desktop environment, and there are several versions of each with different DEs as their default. Ubuntu has Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Lubuntu as examples, and Fedora has its KDE, XFCE, and LXDE Spins.
Fedora vs. Ubuntu: The Main Differences
There are some key differences in the Fedora vs. Ubuntu debate. One of them is the package systems they use. Fedora uses RPM, but Ubuntu uses DPKG. This means that packages meant for one will not be available for use on the other. They do both have a universal package format that they’re rallying behind, but Ubuntu is using Snap packages, and Fedora is using Flatpaks. (Read their differences here.) Canonical’s Snap Store is not fully open source, but all of the Flatpaks and GNOME Software (which is used as the GUI front end for Flatpaks on Fedora) are all open source, as per Fedora’s philosophy.
Look and Feel
There are also differences in the implementations of GNOME Shell. On the newest versions of both distros they use GNOME Shell 3.36, but Ubuntu has specific theming that gives it the signature look. However, Fedora uses a very vanilla version of GNOME Shell, down to the default Adwaita themes and applications. You can see the slight theming differences on the Lock Screens below.
In terms of customization, both are quite customizable. Fedora edges Ubuntu out slightly, as it has the new GNOME Extensions app installed by default, but it is simple enough to install GNOME Extensions and Tweaks on both systems. Icons and themes are extracted into the “~/.icons” and “~/.themes” directories, respectively, making GNOME Shell equally customizable on both distros.
Both distros have excellent performance. However, there are two primary differences that help Fedora take the lead. The first is EarlyOOM, an early out-of-memory killer that’s baked into Fedora. To be brief, EarlyOOM is a much more aggressive out-of-memory killer than the one that’s in the Linux kernel and has a huge impact on low-memory systems and on systems that have memory-intensive applications. I recommend listening to this podcast episode from Linux Unplugged where they put EarlyOOM to the test.
In terms of RAM usage on a fresh boot, Ubuntu uses significantly less. I have 789 MiB RAM usage on Ubuntu and 1.2 GiB RAM usage on Fedora in two identically-provisioned machines. However, I think personally that Fedora’s management of RAM with EarlyOOM more than makes up for this. 500 MiB RAM can be a lot on systems with little RAM, but if that is a particular concern for you, I would recommend one of the many Fedora Spins or Ubuntu flavors.
The other is that SSD Trim is on by default in Fedora 32 via FSTRIM. This makes flash-based storage devices use available blocks more efficiently for better wear management and efficiency. This allows for better longevity of an SSD that has Fedora 32 installed on it, making this a potentially better choice for Fedora systems installed on SSDs.
Otherwise, the performance of both distros is very good. The UI feels snappy, applications open quickly, and they are both excellent systems to use.
This is one of the things that begins to separate the two distributions. Fedora has a much faster release cadence, with new releases every six months. This requires more frequent OS upgrades. Ubuntu, on the other hand, has the option of long-term support (LTS) releases. These LTS releases are supported by Canonical for five years, making it potentially a superior choice for consistent, reliable access to the same environment and tools.
However, in Fedora’s defense, system updates and OS upgrades are very smooth and have very little downtime. I have heard reports of people running OS upgrades from Fedora 24 all the way to 31 with nothing breaking on the system. That is quite extraordinary and serves to credit Fedora with rock-solid releases and good engineering.
So, Fedora vs. Ubuntu: Which One is for You? That is entirely up to you. Hopefully, this article served to highlight the similarities and differences between the two distributions. Both are solid, dependable distros that will serve you well in your daily tasks. Make sure to check out some other articles on Ubuntu and Fedora, such as how to manage your Fedora system with Cockpit, how to install fonts in Ubuntu 20.04, and how to fix the no-sound issue in Ubuntu.