Red Hat and Ubuntu are two big names in the Linux world. While both of these distributions of Linux come from different backgrounds, their functionality overlaps to a very large extent. If you’re trying to pick your first distribution to experience what open source software has to offer, this article will help you decide whether to go with Red Hat or Ubuntu. And if you’re just curious to know what are the differences between these two popular distributions, keep on reading because we have summarized all the main features of both Red Hat and Ubuntu.
Red Hat Linux is published by Red Hat, Inc., which is an American multinational software company that was founded in 1993. Red Hat released Red Hat Linux 1.0 on November 3, 1994, initially calling it Red Hat Commercial Linux. Red Hat Linux quickly inspired many other derivative distributions, including Mandrake (today Mandriva), Turbolinux, Yellow Dog, and Scientific, just to name a few. Red Hat Linux was the first distribution to use the RPM package management system, which later became the baseline package format of the Linux Standard Base.
The first version of Ubuntu was released on October 20, 2004, by Canonical Ltd., a UK-based software company founded and funded by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth. Unlike Red Hat Linux, Ubuntu isn’t an original Linux distribution. Instead, it’s built on Debian, which is one of the earliest operating systems based on the Linux kernel, first released in 1993. But despite not being entirely original, has still managed to give life to countless derivatives, including Linux Mint (currently the most popular desktop Linux distribution), Mythbuntu, and Bodhi Linux, among many others. Right from its inception, Ubuntu focused on usability, which led to its rapid adoption by home users around the world.
Red Hat as a company has become associated with its enterprise operating system, called Red Hat Enterprise Linux. When you hear or read somebody talking about “Red Hat,” they usually mean Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Just like the name suggests, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is strictly an enterprise Linux distribution that targets large corporations, not individual home users. RHEL is security-oriented, and it ships with old versions of most packages, such as graphics card drivers or desktop environments. However, Red Hat backports important features, security fixes, and bugfixes to their packages, keeping RHEL highly secure and compatible with various enterprise applications.
Red Hat is also responsible for SELinux, and RHEL comes with SELinux enabled by default. SELinux is a Linux kernel security module that provides a mechanism for supporting access control security policies, and it’s an important pillar of many hardened Linux installations.
Perhaps the most important thing that separates RHEL from other Linux distributions is the fact that users are required to purchase a support contract to use it. Large corporations actually want professional support from vendors, so they don’t mind, but home users seldom pay somebody else to solve OS problems, especially Linux users.
We should note that there is a free, enterprise-class Linux distribution based on RHEL, and its name is CentOS. The only major difference between CentOS and RHEL is the aforementioned paid support.
Because we’ve established that Red Hat is synonymous with its commercial, enterprise-grade Linux distribution called Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), we want to start this section by clarifying that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, also offers support contracts just like Red Hat does even though ubuntu usually runs on personal computers.
If you look at usage statistics and market share of Linux for websites, you’ll notice that Ubuntu is actually the most used Linux distribution on servers, which might lead you to believe that even enterprise customers prefer Ubuntu over RHEL. While it’s true that most third-party enterprise tools work great on both distributions, important systems usually run RHEL or other enterprise-grade distribution. The percentage of Ubuntu servers is so high because secured systems usually make it impossible to tell from the outside which OS they run.
Ubuntu’s approach is to offer users many versions tailored for specific use-cases while focusing on usability and prioritizing modern features over stability and security. As such, Ubuntu is available in multiple flavors and can run on most desktop computers, servers, and even on some smartphones and tablets.
Ubuntu doesn’t backport security updates and bugfixes as Red Hat does. Instead, they release new versions of packages when they are available. In exchange for SELinux, Ubuntu uses a Linux kernel security module called AppArmor to restrict programs’ capabilities with per-program profiles.
Red Hat and Ubuntu use Linux kernel and GNU core utilities (a popular package containing many basic tools), which means that the same commands and the same applications run on both distributions. That said, Ubuntu uses Debian packages as its software package format, while Red Hat uses its RPM Package Manager package management system.
To install Firefox on Ubuntu, one could either use Ubuntu Software Center or type apt-get install firefox into the terminal. To install the same package on Red Hat, one could either use the Package Management Tool or type yum install firefox into the terminal.
Ubuntu’s default desktop environment is called Unity, and it was originally developed by Canonical Ltd. Exclusively for Ubuntu. Unity is based on the GNOME desktop environment, which is the default desktop environment of Red Hat Linux. From the end-users’ point-of-view, the differences between Unity and GNOME are relatively minor, and most are purely visual.
Despite a significant overlap between Red Hat Linux and Ubuntu, each of these two distributions targets a different audience. Red Hat Linux appeals to enterprise customers who demand professional support and excellent security and are willing to pay what it takes to get them. Ubuntu feels right at home on desktop computers as well as on less critical servers maintained by amateur and professional administrators alike. If you’re a Linux newbie, you should definitely start with Ubuntu. The web is full of excellent resources that target Ubuntu users, so you’ll have a much easier time learning how things work.