However, as you look more closely, differences start to emerge. By default, Fedora places icons for basic applications on the top panel, while Ubuntu only adds Firefox to the panel. Moreover, once you install, Fedora shows three desktop icons, while Ubuntu shows none. These are small differences, but you can infer an acceptance of desktop icons as a possible user preference in Fedora, and a tendency to avoid them in favor of menus and panels in Ubuntu.
The icons that Ubuntu does allow are confined to the panels. The four corners of Ubuntu's desktop have been associated with specific functions for several releases now: starting at the top left and moving clockwise, they are the main menu, an exit menu, trash, and an applet for hiding all windows to show the desktop.
This arrangement makes for consistency, but the Trash icon, for one, is much harder to use when it is reduced in size to fit on the lower panel than when it is on the desktop. Similarly, the separation of the exit menu from the three standard menus in the top panel can make it hard to find, especially for those familiar in GNOME from other distros.
In fact, the more you use Ubuntu, the more its modifications from standard GNOME begin to add up. Ubuntu's Indicator Applet, which replaces the Notification Area in Fedora and other standard implementations of GNOME, has just enough differences in behavior to be distracting, although it does seem less intrusive once you get used to it.
Other changes from standard GNOME include Ubuntu-only tools for centralized management of sound and social networking accounts, which are either a convenience or a needless frill, depending on whether you see a need for them.
The same ambiguity surrounds the infamous placement of title bar buttons on the left instead of the traditional right. Adjusting to the change is not difficult, but, if you are used to a distribution like Fedora that makes fewer alterations to GNOME, then you might wonder whether the attention given to such matters is worth any gain in usability. To be fair, though, opinions might change when the newly-freed space on the right are filled with the forthcoming window indicators.
Being contemporaries, Fedora 14 and Ubuntu Maverick show only minor differences in standard software. Both use a 2.6.35 kernel, and are based on GNOME 2.32. Productivity software, such as Firefox (3.6) and OpenOffice.org (3.2) are also more or less equivalent in the two distros, give or take the occasional minor update or two.
However, as in previous releases, Ubuntu continues to provide proprietary drivers for video and wireless cards, while not using them by default and hedging them with warnings. In comparison, Fedora does not include proprietary software in its repositories, requiring those who want such things to find them in unofficial repositories.
The only brushes that Fedora has with proprietary software is some gray areas like firmware blobs and Mono; contrary to what you may have heard, the decision to ship the note-taker Gnote rather than its Mono-based counterpart Tomboy was based not on a rejection of Mono, but on space considerations on Fedora's increasingly crowded Live CD.
In general, the default software offerings in the latest versions of Fedora and Ubuntu continue to be almost identical. Probably the largest difference remains Fedora's shipping of SE Linux for security, as well as its attendant tools. At times, you may need to disable SELinux when you install new software, and its complexity makes many dislike it. At the same time, SELinux gives you security that is strong and can be finely tuned, and is unmatched by anything that Ubuntu installs by default.
Both Fedora and Ubuntu continue to be centered on GNOME. At the same time, both offer alternative interfaces. But with Ubuntu's focus on improving usability in the GNOME interface and, in the next release, defaulting to its new GNOME-based Unity desktop, alternatives like the KDE-based Kubuntu or Xfce-based Xubuntu seem to be receiving less attention. Lesser-known graphical interfaces like LXDE and Sugar are available in Ubuntu, but receive little promotion in the release notes.
The same is true to an extent in Fedora. However, in the last few years, Fedora has been giving KDE and Xfce more attention, acknowledging them more strongly as alternatives. Fedora 14 continues this tradition by promoting the MeeGo mobile interface in its release notes.