Watching Ubuntu and Fedora development is something like watching episodes of Iron Chef: Given roughly the same ingredients and the same amount of time, the two projects produce vastly different dishes. The Fedora 14 and Ubuntu 10.10 release cycle is particularly pronounced in this regard, with Ubuntu's focus largely on refining improvements from 10.04 and Fedora introducing major changes to the infrastructure.
The two distributions follow largely the same development cycle, six
months between releases with new major releases each Spring and
Fall. Ubuntu's next release is scheduled for October 10th, while Fedora 14
was scheduled for October 26th, but slipped by a week and is now
scheduled for November 2nd. Even though the two distributions ship roughly the
same software, the difference in features that have been emphasized by each
is significant in the upcoming releases. It almost goes without saying
that F14 and Ubuntu 10.10 include the normal array of package updates for
the usual suspects like Firefox, the Linux kernel, etc.
list largely consists of infrastructure improvements and
developer-oriented updates. For example, some of the features scoped for
F14 include providing a GNUstep
development environment, updating to Perl
5.12, updating to Python
2.7, and adding Rakudo
Star — the first production release of the Perl 6 implementation
for the Parrot virtual machine.
In contrast, Ubuntu 10.10 ("Maverick Meerkat") has more conservative developer tools, with Python 2.6.6 and Perl 5.10 still the defaults in the beta release. Rakudo doesn't seem to be available at all. Fedora has also adopted a new version of the libjpeg library, libjpeg-turbo, which is still awaiting packaging in Ubuntu. In short, Fedora is sticking to its philosophy of shipping free software first.
Fedora is also being adventurous with its init system. The project is in the process of switching to systemd, an alternative to the venerable System V
init and (more recently) the Ubuntu-led Upstart, which Fedora adopted with the Fedora 9 release. Even though systemd is shipped with the Fedora 14 alpha, there's no guarantee that it will wind up in Fedora 14 final. The Fedora project scheduled a test day on September 7th get feedback on systemd and determine whether the new init system for Fedora will hit the streets with Fedora 14 or be held back for Fedora 15.
Not surprisingly, many of F14's features are likely to be important to
Red Hat for future Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases. Assuming all goes
according to plan, F14 will also be the first release to include support
for Spice. The Spice project is
designed to provide high-quality remote access to virtual desktops,
allowing users to run several Linux or Windows clients via QEMU on a single
server and display the clients on remote machines. It's not something that will appeal to many home users, but the ability to run many client OSes on a single server and display on remote clients via Virtual Device Interfaces (VDIs) will appeal to large organizations.
Fedora 14 is also road testing features for Multipath install, which is to say Storage Area Network (SAN) devices. Again, not something that will really appeal to the consumer desktop market, but important to larger organizations.
Compared to the Ubuntu 10.04 release, Maverick seems like a fairly
modest update. Many of the new features in 10.10 focus on Ubuntu-specific
features like the Ubuntu One services offered by Canonical and supported by
software shipped with Ubuntu. In particular, the release includes a number
of improvements to the Ubuntu Software Center, with a focus on the "For
Purchase" section. Presumably the idea is to offer proprietary packages
within Ubuntu following the 10.10 release. So far, the only package to show
up is the Fluendo DVD player, which is priced at $24.95.
The Software Center has received a number of usability enhancements
and is very polished now. For instance, it now shows where an
application has been installed —
something that may have confused some users. For programs like
Firefox, the Software Center can also show add-ons or extensions, so
users will be able to easily find plugins or extensions packaged for
the software. The history of packages installed, updated, or removed
by the Software Center is also displayed by date and action. When comparing the
Software Center and the PackageKit front-end for Fedora side by side,
is much less polished and user friendly.
Ubuntu has also worked on refining the Ubiquity installer for
10.10. Whereas the Fedora Project is trying to tackle more complex storage
and so on, Ubuntu is working on hiding the complexity of partitioning disks
and dealing with storage as much as possible. Ubuntu now presents a dialog
at the beginning of the install suggesting that "for best results" the
machine be plugged in, and that the system should be connected to a
network. Ubuntu also offers to install things like Flash and MP3 support,
though they're not shipped on the disc. Unfortunately, while it suggests
being connected to a network is a Good Thing, it doesn't offer a way to
actually configure wireless networking at install time if the system is not connected via Ethernet. The partitioner has also been simplified, and has a positively Mac-like feel.
Fedora and Ubuntu are also diverging significantly with the netbook
experience. Fedora is scheduled to
include the MeeGo 1.0 UX experience for F14, though it doesn't seem to
be packaged for the alpha release. Ubuntu, on the other hand, is pursuing
its own netbook experience called Unity (which is somewhat ironic, since
Ubuntu is going it alone) that is not based on MeeGo (or Moblin which was
the earlier basis for Ubuntu's netbook distribution).
One thing that won't be appearing in Ubuntu 10.10 is the much talked
Font Family that's being designed outside the community. The Ubuntu
font is currently available to Ubuntu Members through a Private Package
Archive (PPA), but doesn't
appear to be ready for release with 10.10. Ubuntu has also included more refinements of its indicator applets in GNOME and improved the sound controls so that if the user is listening to Rhythmbox, some simple playback controls (play/pause, forward, backward) are included in the drop-down control.
The next release for Ubuntu is the release candidate, scheduled for September 30th. The Fedora 14 beta, taking into account the slip, is now scheduled on September 28th.
Both releases seem to be shaping up well, if very differently — as befitting the focus of the distributions and projects. Ubuntu 10.10 is a polished consumer OS that is well-suited for users who are new to Linux, or just prefer a desktop system that's easy to use. Fedora's developer-centric approach makes for an OS that is easy enough to use, but better suited for developers or experienced users who want to tinker with technologies before they make an official appearance in RHEL and other distributions. Ubuntu, on the other hand, is the end result of development rather than the beginning. Many of the changes in 10.10, e.g. the Ubuntu One improvements and the application indicators, are unlikely to show up in other distributions (excepting, perhaps, Linux Mint).
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