Ubuntu GNOME vs openSUSE and Fedora

Introduction

I recently tried out the latest version of Ubuntu with the GNOME desktop. Whilst my experience was largely positive how well did it compare to openSUSE and Fedora?

This comparison looks at the functionality of all three distributions from the average user's point of view.

The guide looks at how easy each distribution is to install, their look and feel, how easy it was to install multimedia codecs, the applications that are pre-installed, package management, performance, and issues.

1
Installation

Install openSUSE Linux
Install openSUSE Linux.

Ubuntu GNOME is the easiest of the three distributions to install. The steps are very straight forward:

  • Choose your language
  • Connect to the internet
  • Check pre-requisites
  • Partition your drive
  • Choose location / timezone
  • Choose keyboard layout
  • Create a user

The partitioning can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be. If you want Ubuntu to be the only operating system choose to use the entire disk or to dual boot choose to install alongside an existing operating system.

Dual booting on a UEFI based machine is straight forward nowadays as well.

I never thought I would say this but the second best installer is Fedora's Anaconda installer.

The process isn't quite as linear as it is for Ubuntu but the essential steps are to choose your language, set the date and time, choose your keyboard layout, choose where to install Fedora and set the hostname.

Again partitioning can be as involved or as simple as you want it to be. It isn't quite as obvious as it is with Ubuntu as you have to "reclaim space". There is an option to delete all partitions though if you want to install to the entire disk.

The final steps for the Anaconda installer include setting the root password and creating the main user.

The openSUSE installer is the trickiest to fathom. It starts easily enough with steps for accepting the license agreement and choosing the timezone and then comes the bit where you choose where to install openSUSE to.

The main issue is that you are provided with a long list showing the plans openSUSE has made for partitioning your drive and the way it is listed is just too much and makes it difficult to see what is going to happen.

2
Look And Feel

Ubuntu GNOME vs Fedora GNOME vs openSUSE GNOME
Ubuntu GNOME vs Fedora GNOME vs openSUSE GNOME.

It is difficult to separate three distributions based on the look and feel when they are all using the same desktop environment especially when the desktop environment involved is GNOME because it isn't highly customizable.

Undoubtedly Ubuntu GNOME has the nicest selection of wallpapers installed by default and for kitten lovers, there is one especially for you.

openSUSE has utilized the activities window well and the icons and workspaces fit perfectly into the screen. When I installed Fedora everything felt a little bit squashed.

3
Installing Flash And Multimedia Codecs

Install Flash In Fedora Linux
Install Flash In Fedora Linux.

During the Ubuntu installation, there is the option to install the third party components required to play Flash videos and listen to MP3 audio.

The other way to get the multimedia codecs within Ubuntu is to install the "Ubuntu Restricted Extras" package. Unfortunately using the Ubuntu Software Centre causes all sorts of headaches when installing this package as there is a license agreement which must be accepted and unfortunately it is never displayed. The easiest way to install the restricted extras package is via the command line.

Within Fedora, the process is more one thing at a time. For instance, to install Flash you can go to the Adobe website and download the file and run it with the GNOME package manager. You can then attach Flash as an add-on to Firefox.

(Click here for a guide showing how to install Flash on Fedora as well as multimedia codecs and STEAM)

To get MP3 audio to play within Fedora you need to add the RPMFusion repository and then you will be able to install the GStreamer non-free package.

openSUSE provides a series of 1-click install packages to enable you to install Flash and multimedia codecs.

To be honest not one of the solutions is 100% ideal.

Fortunately, there are guide for all of them here

4
Applications

GNOME Applications
GNOME Applications.

As with the look and feel section it is hard to separate three distributions which utilize the GNOME desktop environment when it comes to application selection as GNOME comes with a standard set which includes an address book, mail client, games and more.

(Click here for a review of Evolution, the GNOME email client)

openSUSE has a couple of interesting extras such as Liferea which is an RSS viewer that I reviewed recently. It also has midnight commander which is an alternative file manager and k3b an alternative disk burning package.

openSUSE and Fedora both have the GNOME music player which integrates nicely with the desktop environment. All three have Rhythmbox installed but the GNOME music player just looks and feels nice.

(Click here for a review of Rhythmbox)

Totem is the default video player within GNOME. Unfortunately, within the Ubuntu version, the Youtube videos don't seem to play correctly. This isn't an issue with either openSUSE or Fedora. 

5
Installing Software

Install Applications GNOME
Install Applications GNOME.

There are multiple ways to install applications using Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE.

Ubuntu uses the Software Centre as a graphical package manager whereas Fedora and openSUSE use the GNOME package manager.

The Software Centre is a little bit better because it does list all the software in the repositories although it is sometimes fiddly getting it to do so. The GNOME package manager seems to omit results such as STEAM even though it is in the repositories.

Alternatives for openSUSE include YAST and for Fedora the YUM Extender which is more rudimentary graphical package managers.

If you want to get your hands dirty you can use the command line. Ubuntu uses apt-get, Fedora uses YUM and openSUSE uses Zypper. In all three cases, it is just a matter of learning the correct syntax and switches.

6
Performance

Fedora using Wayland provides the overall best performance. Fedora with the X system was a bit laggy.

Ubuntu is faster than openSUSE and runs really well. This is not to say that openSUSE is a slouch in any way.

All three ran very nicely on the two more modern laptops in my possession.

7
Stability

In theory, openSUSE should be the most stable and to be honest it never let me down. I never had a single notification or error message pop up whilst using it.

Ubuntu was fine as well and I am still awaiting my first crash although the issue with installing the restricted extras package caused the software center to hang and I have had a couple of spurious "this application has had to close" messages even though nothing obvious closed.

Fedora was a little bit different. If I used Fedora with X then it worked fine but it was a bit laggy. If I used it with Wayland it was very slick but I had issues with certain applications such as Scribus. There were definitely more error messages across the board.

Summary

All three operating systems have the plus points and their gotchas. Ubuntu is the easiest to install and once you get the multimedia sorted out you are good to go. The GNOME version of Ubuntu is probably preferable to the Unity version but you can read more about that in this article. Fedora is more experimental and if you want to try Wayland out for the first time it is worth installing. Fedora implements GNOME in a more traditional way which means it implement GNOME tools as opposed to tools more traditionally associated with Ubuntu. For example GNOME Boxes and GNOME Packagekit. openSUSE is a great alternative to Ubuntu and is more stable than Fedora. As with Fedora it provides tools mainly associated with GNOME but with a couple of nice extras such as Midnight Commander. The choice is yours.