One of my new computers worked with Fedora but not Ubuntu. Another new computer worked with Ubuntu but not Fedora. You may no get the chance to choose between Ubuntu and Fedora when installing linux on a new computer. When both Fedora and Ubuntu work on your computer, your choice is difficult because almost everything is available from both distributions. Lets look at some of the differences in a standard download and installation.
Updated for Ubuntu 11.10 and Fedora 15
Ubuntu is based on Debian and has some newer hardware drivers, compared to Debian, making Ubuntu a better choice than Debian for new computers. Fedora is Red Hat with newer hardware drivers, making Fedora a good choice for new hardware. On some occasions with new computers, the latest Fedora works while on other occasions, only the latest Ubuntu works. When they both work, there is little to choose between them except for RAID and the default desktop user interface.
Gnome 2 and KDE
Both Fedora and Ubuntu offered Gnome version 2 as the user interface. Both offered KDE as an alternative. Some Windows users say KDE is closer to Windows and is easier to use when converting from Windows. I compared KDE and Gnome several times over many years and always chose Gnome.
Some KDE applications run under Gnome by packaging a KDE wrapper around the application. The KDE combination adds a massive memory chewing lump to the application and crashes more often than a Java based application. KDE yes, perhaps, but not KDE under Gnome.
Ubuntu 11 added the Unity user interface, a user interface previously developed for a special Ubuntu netbook edition. I tried their Unity netbook edition on a netbook and switched to standard Ubuntu with Gnome 2. Ubuntu made Unity the default for the desktop version of Ubuntu and kept Gnome 2 as an easy to select alternative. I try each version of Unity then switch back to Gnome. You might like Unity. The important thing is Ubuntu gives you the choice.
Fedora 15 switched from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3. Some people prefer Gnome 3 and many people prefer Gnome 2. Unfortunately Fedora does not give you the choice. On Fedora, Gnome 3 is installed and you have to fight through a major change to switch back to Gnome 2. Ubuntu beats Fedora 11.4 on this point by giving you an easy choice. Ubuntu 11.10 switches to Gnome 3 and removes the advantage of Ubuntu.
Fedora has RAID configuration built in. Ubuntu can download RAID in a few seconds and Ubuntu offers their alternate distribution with RAID built in. The last time I installed a full RAID based computer, back around the start of Ubuntu 11, the Ubuntu alternate distribution was easier to configure for RAID than Fedora. Fedora beats Ubuntu by supplying RAID as standard but then makes simple RAID configurations more difficult. Fedora could beat Ubuntu outright with just a small improvement to their configuration interface.
CentOS is another Red Hat derivative and is used for a lot of Web site hosting. Ubuntu is offered by almost every web hosting company, followed by CentOS and Debian, with Fedora a long way behind. For most web hosting, the choice is Ubuntu or CentOS, not Fedora.
When I use CentOS on the server and Ubuntu on a Web development computer, I cannot see any significant difference. I have not found Fedora better than Ubuntu other than the few times Fedora is ahead of Ubuntu on hardware drivers. CentOS is behind Fedora and not a competitor on new hardware. I tried CentOS a few times on the desktop in an attempt to match CentOS based Web sites but CentOS is not a good desktop choice. Fedora is the closest desktop match to CentOS but you end up with completely different releases of everything.
From my experience, the easiest way to match your desktop software with a Web server is to use Ubuntu on both.
Both Fedora and Ubuntu have out of date documentation. Both have support forums with lots of out of date advice that might work but is far harder than what is required in current versions. If you have friends with lots of Linux experience, use the Linux they use.
Real time sound and video editing
Ubuntu has an Ubuntu Studio version with modifications to Linux to reduce delay times for sound and video. If you edit sound or Video in real time, this special version of Ubuntu is a good choice. For everyone else, the modifications will eventually be in all versions of Linux including Fedora.
Netbooks and smartphones
Ubuntu has a Moblin version for netbooks and smart phones. I do not know of a Fedora equivalent. Most phone manufacturers are choosing the Android version of Linux, not the Moblin version of Linux. You are stuck with Android on smartphones because there are no hardware drivers for any other versions of Linux.
Larger netbooks run any version of Linux with little difference between a netbook and a notebook. You can download several user interfaces for smaller screens and less memory. You could start with either Fedora or Ubuntu on a modern netbook then customise the user interface software and screen layout to fit the size.
When you read the advertising for Fedora and Ubuntu new releases, you often see something along the line of
includes example 6.3. Both Fedora and Ubuntu let you install almost any application for Linux. The presence or absence of a major application is not important because you can add it yourself.
The version of an application can be important because some distributions of Linux install old versions of applications then make it difficult to update to a newer version. Modern applications provide a way to bypass the distribution version and use the latest version. Ubuntu is based on Debian and accepts the Debian .deb files. Fedora is based on Redhat and accepts the Redhat RPM files. Applications tend to supply neither or both. This is rarely a reason to choose one distribution over another.
Linux Mint, from www.linuxmint.com, used to be Ubuntu with modifications and is now developing into Debian with additions similar to Ubuntu. Linux Mint is currently sticking with the Gnome user interface and might be a good alternative to Ubuntu if you have hardware compatibility problems or hate Unity.
Debian used to be a pig to install and did not have user friendly versions for download. Today Debian has far more choices for download and some friendlier options for trying out Debian. If your computer is not new and you are happy to experiment, Debian could be a good choice for people who use Debian for their servers and want to use the same operating system on the desktop. Download Debian from www.debian.org.
If you have the very latest hardware, one distribution might work before the other. For hardware older than 6 months, they both work the same and can be configured to the same user interface. I use Ubuntu purely because of two reasons, Ubuntu beat Fedora on a few workstation and server installations several years ago, and most of my Web sites are hosted on Ubuntu.