Let's meet our competitors.
In the red corner: Ubuntu 8.10 "Intrepid Ibex"
In the blue corner: Fedora 10 "Cambridge"
This is possibly the most bizarre distro Canonical has sponsored (and this is not withstanding Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, which felt that Firefox 3 Beta 5 was stable enough for 5 year support). I love the new desktop theme, the excellent tool which makes installing proprietary or restricted drivers a breeze and the new tools which make networking with mobile broadband so much easier. What I can't understand is why they stuck with OpenOffice.org 2.4 with the release. OpenOffice.org 3.0 was more than stable enough for release and provides a killer feature, it can finally open Office 2007 files (even if it can't save to them, though that is not necessarily a bad thing!).
But what makes "Intrepid Ibex" so odd in terms of Linux distros? The lack of hype. I was fully with the hoardes of Linux enthusiasts who eagerly awaited the release of "Hardy Heron" and brought down Canonical's server (and did the same with OpenOffice.org 3.0 incidentally!). But with Intrepid, we saw some media hype but at the grass routes there seemed to be a real lack of enthusiasm in the forums. I noticed for the first time since Ubuntu "Edgy Eft" people saying, "No, we'll just stick with this version". This isn't an entirely bad thing, as the majority of users are sticking with a mature and stable system which will be supported for years to come. But in terms of Ubuntu's future, this doesn't look great. Fans have been disappointed by the lack of innovation, and putting OpenOffice.org 3.0 in the backports repository just adds insult to injury.
I love Ubuntu. It's the first distro I trusted enough to commit to hard disk, and I've been using it ever since. I've got used to it's quirks and foibles, and it has provided an easy to use platform that works for me on a day to day basis. But if Ubuntu is planning more releases, they need to be more innovative with them if they aren't LTS. The Ubuntu developers have been far from idle, but there is no killer feature which will spark a mass download or encourage migration from Hardy. It's a shame, because with a bit of thought this could have been yet another great release I would have swooned over. Instead I've been met with disappointment at the lack of defining features. As a Ubuntu fan, I can say from the heart that I'm gutted.
So, with the above in mind, I thought I'd try out other distros to see what they offered. This wasn't out of malice towards Ubuntu, I just wanted to see what the rest of the Linux world had to offer. I hadn't tried Mandriva since 2007.0, but the Live version of 2009 didn't fully recognise the hardware configuration of my laptop (and needed Powerpack to use the relevant drivers. Using Windows drivers in ndiswrapper is a messy solution, so this was discounted). I tried openSUSE a year back and found it seriously wanting. I also haven't entirely forgiven Novell for fraternising with Microsoft (Silverlight adoption is very slow, so I'm not sure how valuable the Moonlight project will be) so I discounted that. My next trial however was Fedora 10. Finally, I was impressed!
Trialling it as a LiveCD then in a VM I tried to do the things I would normally do in Ubuntu. A bit of word processing, surfing the net and developing some software. So far so good (and I did enjoy Fedora's inbuilt virtualization tools). So, I tried installing it as a dual boot with Vista. This was the part that finally wowed me and made me question my devotion to Ubuntu.
Fedora's installer was an absolute breeze to use and resizing partitions and setting up the right layout was covered by a wizard. The installer itself looked stunning, with a large blue coloured fireball (interesting... but really quite cool). Unlike Ubuntu, you also have the option to choose your software before you install. This is available in other distros, but you don't usually get some tasty RHEL tools thrown in!
So, how hard is it to use Fedora 10 as a mainline distro? Well, you can still do what you can do in Ubuntu. The equivalent of the Medibuntu repository is Livna. You do have to install Flash manually, but as you can choose the 'YUM' option from the Adobe website to have it automatically update that isn't a serious issue. To download programs from the terminal you forget 'aptitude get' and say 'yum install'. There is some strange satisfaction people get out of typing 'yum' into a terminal which I never understood before. I now get the same thing, and it gives the impression you're installing some tasty software! You also lose
sudo in exchange for
But what sells it as a replacement for Ubuntu? The RHEL tools do help, but there's something about Fedora that marks it as different. Maybe it's the way things are laid out in the menu? Maybe it's the way different desktops integrate so well into the distro? Maybe it's because it's easier to set up an environment to suit your exact needs? For me, Fedora 10 'just works', covers my needs more precisely than Ubuntu, and makes a refreshing change from that 'human' coloured distro I've been using for so long. I think the Fedora community have a real winner on their hands. It's just a shame they don't have the hype or the following of Ubuntu. I consider it the unsung hero of the Linux distros.
What other distros could I have thrown down with Ubuntu? I could have tried Debian, but only the most hardcore FOSS advocate could be T total. Linux Mint is derivative of Ubuntu but with proprietary and patented technology. I could have tried PCLinuxOS, BSD or even openSolaris (there's no reason why I didn't, so I will do in future!). But, with every fight there has to be a result!
Well they are both winners in their own right, but to me there is a new champion. My heart is with the underdog but my head is with the favourite, because as Mark Twain put it, that's business! Ubuntu has served me well for 2 years now, and its community support is bustling. I'm still using Ubuntu Hardy with it's netbook remix on my Asus Eee PC 900. But Fedora has now won it's place as my 'power' distro of choice on my new Sony VAIO. I will report back on how this works out. Will I take to Fedora or come crying back to Ubuntu? We will see...