This weekend I decided to pit the latest releases of Fedora and OpenSUSE Linux against my current installation of Ubuntu 8.10. I downloaded and burned the Live CDs of both distros. I played with the Live CDs and installed both of them (separately). My test computer is an old P-III 933Mhz with 768MB of RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 5200 FX 128MB graphics card, and wired Ethernet. This is a pretty old computer, but runs Windows XP and Ubuntu pretty well for basic tasks. When working with Linux in this experiment, I was using a completely blank hard drive that bypassed my main drive, which had XP installed. I set my BIOS to boot to that blank second drive for this test.
I tried Fedora. I’ve tinkered on and off with Fedora since version 2. The latest, version 10 was released in November. Fedora’s best quality is its clean, polished interface and visual theme. It is very attractive. That said, under the hood it doesn’t seem as refined. Boot time is very slow, and it was generally slow during general use in comparison to Ubuntu 8.10. There were many pauses in boot and execution, which several moments of no hard drive activity of any kind. What was it thinking about? I don’t know.
Fedora is committed to free open-source software, and doesn’t provide easy access to extras like codecs, Flash, and Java. In Ubuntu you can install Flash directly from Adobe’s website. Not the case with Fedora! Also, no proprietary graphics drivers are available for NVIDIA cards in Fedora 10, period. In addition, system sound was disabled by default at install, and Fedora admits to this. Huh? This all makes for a difficult setup to me. OpenOffice is not provided by default, with AbiWord installed instead. Attempts to add extra software from repositories was both complicated and confusing. My efforts to add OpenOffice made no sense at all, with the system showing literally dozens of packages available, ranging from converters to fonts, etc.. Why isn’t there a single package to install? This extreme difficulty, lack of out of the box offerings, and general slowness has turned me off of Fedora.
I tried OpenSUSE 11.1, which was just released last week. I’ve used past releases of SUSE with pretty good results. The new Live CD worked well on my PC and the OS felt polished and smooth. Scrolling and window switching was remarkably smooth on my old PC. However, attempting to install the OS to the hard drive from the Live CD resulted in a failure. It complained that I had only 768MB of RAM. It froze while installing GRUB. I tried twice with the same result. Frustrated, I went to my Dell laptop and ran the Live CD from there. Again, it booted quite slowly, despite my laptop having much faster hardware. The Live CD functioned for a while, but not long after connecting to a wireless network, the whole system froze. I have never had this happen with any past Ubuntu release. My limited test concluded that OpenSUSE is not very reliable for my taste. A command line installer of the OS on the CD would have been a nice addition.
In closing, this non-scientific experiment has reinforced my belief in Ubuntu being the best Linux for the desktop. I highly recommend it head and shoulders above the competition. Granted, Ubuntu’s default theme is not as pretty as either Fedora or OpenSUSE, but the raw mechanics of it are unmatched in my mind.