Linux is really a “kernel,” or an important piece of code at the heart of a lot of computer operating systems, like Android. But it’s also a slang term that means “a desktop OS based on the Linux kernel,” or one that works on “normal” computers the way Windows and the Mac OS do. These OSes are usually Free Software, meaning you can look at the open source programming code and use it in your own projects if you have the know how.
For most of the last 20 or so years, there have been a lot of Linux “distributions” or “distros” to choose from, meaning complete computer OSes based on Linux. But starting about 5 years ago, one called Ubuntu started to take the lead in both market- and mindshare. With marketing slogans like “Linux for human beings,” Ubuntu’s welcoming community helped people who were new to Linux get it set up on their machines, without judging them for not being hardcore enthusiasts.
That was then, this is now
In the last few days, Canonical — the company which sponsors Ubuntu, and which has come to largely control it — has successfully alienated many of the most passionate Ubuntu volunteers. The events in question, which involve (yet more) design decisions being made in secret and then sprung on the community after they’re basically done deals, feel like the culmination of a lot of other clueless decisions — like the one to put Amazon.com search results in Ubuntu’s “Start button” style desktop search.
After watching Ubuntu and its competitors for years now, and seeing the direction Ubuntu has taken, I think I know the biggest difference between Ubuntu and Fedora — perhaps the distro most diametrically opposed to Ubuntu’s approach.
Ubuntu treats you like a consumer
And there are times when that’s not objectionable. It’s okay to pay money and get something nice in return. Or to see relevant ads on content you enjoy.
But that’s not what Ubuntu started out as. Ubuntu’s own marketing emphasizes its “global community” of volunteers, and compares it to Firefox and Wikipedia. Except those are run by nonprofits, while Ubuntu is largely fueled by Canonical’s drive to make the world’s number one OS — a drive its supporters justify as an attempt to “bring Free Software to the masses.”
It just doesn’t seem to regard those “masses” as equals. Neither does its founder, billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, who took the time to berate hurt Ubuntu community members for their “melodrama” last Thursday.
Fedora treats you like a maker
A hobbyist, maybe, but a passionate and informed one. The kind who builds electronics with Arduino, runs her own server, or learns to write programming code. Fedora invites you right on its homepage to “Help make Fedora,” and the company which sponsors Fedora — Red Hat — has even helped sponsor newbie interns, myself included at one point, to work on it.
You may have to do some more work to get it to run on your computer. But some of the reasons why that’s the case, like its eschewing “proprietary” software such as Flash, are also what make it more suitable for people who want to make something with it.
Is Fedora worth trying?
You should use whatever you’re comfortable with. And there’s a lot of work going into making Ubuntu easy to use. It just tends to have side effects, like the aforementioned Amazon thing, as Canonical seeks a return on investment. And you have to accept that if you volunteer, your hard work might be jettisoned like a used booster rocket at some point.