Could Ubuntu be a reasonably secure "just works" alternative to Fedora?

Why I ultimately couldn’t use Fedora:

  1. Community support: After installing Fedora Workstation (tried both GNOME and the KDE spin), I ran into several issues. That alone isn’t the biggest issue for me, as issues can often be resolved. Instead, my biggest problem was the community support. It wasn’t for lack of trying either. I tried several places, both official and unofficial. I showed my work by showing the documentation I’ve read, showing which fixes I’ve tried, etc. Yet with both of my attempts to switch to Fedora (once last year and again recently) I could not receive any community support for any of the issues I ran into. Maybe if I were technically proficient enough or had enough time to research and test things out on my own, I may have eventually been able to resolve those problems. But as is the case with most people, I do not have the time to work on fixing my only PC all on my own without any assistance or direction when I just need to get things done.

  2. Official application availability: This is not the fault of Fedora, however I have a few important applications I need to use which do not have official builds usable on Fedora (including RPM packages, Flatpaks, and AppImages) but are available as DEB packages and/or Snaps. One great example of this is Signal. I know there are unofficial builds available, such as the Flatpak. However, from what I can tell, there aren’t really any security measures in place on Flathub to ensure the safety of unverified (unofficial) apps. It’s worth noting that this concern of mine doesn’t come from nowhere, as in recent months we’ve seen how malware had effortlessly made its way onto the Snap Store. I don’t see any reason to believe unverified Flathub apps are any less susceptible to attacks, so I’m not comfortable with using them for extremely important applications such as Signal. People will have different opinions on what’s worth considering a threat or not, but since I decide my threat model, I’ve decided I’d like to avoid unofficial builds of important software to the best of my ability.

Why I think Ubuntu might be a viable alternative:

  • As far as I can tell, the Ubuntu community seems to be much larger and community support seems to be far more reliable. This was also my experience when I tried out Ubuntu a few years ago. I was always able to receive answers for the problems I faced.

  • In my experience, Debian-based distributions are the most well-supported family of Linux distributions when it comes to desktop usage. I’m not just talking about the operating systems themselves, but also the communities around them and the sheer amount of applications which focus on supporting Debian/Ubuntu. If you’re just an average PC user looking to install applications or get support for something, using Ubuntu (or some other “just works” Debian-based distro) will allow you to have the easiest time on Linux. I’m sure things become more nuanced for more obscure programs used by professionals or hobbyists, or for various other use-cases outside of the desktop. I can only speak to my experience with desktop Linux as a user who doesn’t get too much into the technical weeds.

  • (In my unprofessional assessment) Ubuntu doesn’t seem to be far off from Fedora in regards to security. It uses Wayland by default, it has a new release every 6 months, it supports secure boot OOTB, etc. I know there’s a lot more to security than just that, but at least on the surface, it seems that Ubuntu isn’t terribly different from Fedora in regards to security. I’m wondering if I’m missing anything here or if anyone who disagrees would care to explain why this assessment is wrong.

One of my main concerns with trying Ubuntu instead has got to be Snap. Even if we ignore the debate on the technical side of things like security and efficiency, one of the main reasons I’m interested in making Linux work for me is to avoid proprietary software. I know I know, the Snap client is FOSS! Except, it’s entirely dependant on a centralized proprietary server which is ran by a for-profit company with a bit of a history of doing unsavoury things. To me, that’s not much better than just running proprietary software on my machine. People can disagree, but I love the idea of FOSS, so I think I’ll consider uninstalling Snap and installing Flatpak instead. If anyone knows of any issues with that or has any recommendations related to that issue, feel free to chime in.

After writing this post, it also makes me wonder if it’s worth recommending Ubuntu on Privacy Guides if people agree that it is a reasonably secure alternative to Fedora. I know I’m not the only one who’s complained about difficulties with getting Fedora to work, both in general and on these forums. Not to mention that Fedora often times will quickly adopt new technologies before they’re fully stable, accessible, or easy to use. (Yes, I know it’s intentional, and it’s all the more reason to consider recommending Ubuntu as a safer “just works” distribution.) After all, most people can’t utilize Privacy Guide’s recommendations if the recommended products are probably going to be inaccessible to them. Keep in mind, most people are unable to buy devices made to be compatible with Linux. Those issues I faced would not be uncommon on devices only made with Windows in mind. I know because I’ve tried Linux distributions on several of my own devices over the years and had issues with every single one, and Ubuntu-based distributions were always the easiest to get working when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

I remember there was a discussion a while back on having PG recommend Ubuntu, and while I can’t remember everything that was said, I assume maybe that ship has sailed considering it hasn’t been added. In any case, the main point of this post isn’t to re-hash that discussion, but rather to find a solution for myself since Fedora isn’t working out for me.

UPDATE: So I’ve written out the summary of my conclusions (as of May 18th) for anyone who doesn’t want to read through the entire thread. I didn’t want to mark it as a “Solution” as there are still some important unanswered questions which I go over in my summary, but with the thread going on as long as it has, I doubt we’ll get any answers. I also include a summary of a recommendation for the Privacy Guides team. I’m not sure if anyone on the PG team will notice it way down there, so it might be worth making it a post on its own, which I might do if I end up successfully switching to Ubuntu after failing my switch to Fedora 2-3 times.

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As a frequent lurker here, I finally created an account just to add my sauce to this discussion.

I’m in the same boat as you. My laptop always has this or that issue on Fedora, but never on Ubuntu. Despite that, I kept giving Fedora a chance because of its reputation in the privacy community and the absence of any mention of Ubuntu in privacy discussions related to Linux on this and other forums.

From my also unprofessional POV, Ubuntu seems like a fine option despite being more conservative with updates and sticking to downstream-patched versions of apps that often don’t get updates in newer releases at all/are left unmaintained, mostly for lack of manpower (see gnome-todo - dunno if it’s still in the repos, but last I checked on Ubuntu 23.04, it was still on version 3.36 lmao). The alternative for folks whose experience on Fedora or other less user-friendly-than-Ubuntu options is that they go back to Windows.

That’s why I think PG should reconsider its stance on Ubuntu and at least mention it on the side as like a last resort if the other options (being Fedora and openSUSE) don’t work for them.

Unless Ubuntu has a glaring issue that makes it worse than Windows or macOS that you and I are glancing over, of course.

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In my personal opinion (as a very happy Fedora user), Ubuntu is also a very reasonable choice.

I’d rank Ubuntu in the top 4-5 general purpose desktop distros with respect to security (and in terms of privacy, there aren’t really super meaningful differences between distros, linux in general regardless of what distro you use is pretty privacy respecting.

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Absolutely! Switching to a totally new operating system is hard enough for non-technical users and I think PG might be prioritizing the potential security benefits of Fedora a bit too much… So much so that there isn’t really a “just works” alternative listed for people who absolutely cannot make use of the other recommendations. So long as Ubuntu is meaningfully better than Windows in regards to privacy and doesn’t have some sort of fatal security failing, I really think it should be mentioned in some form.

It definitely wouldn’t be new for Privacy Guides to recommend something that is potentially problematic or imperfect. There are many sections which have warnings related to any particular recommendation, or sections where they provide soft recommendations coupled with disclaimers or warnings. Examples include…

and others…

If Fedora isn’t an ideal “just works” option, I can’t imagine why PG couldn’t do some sort of soft Ubuntu recommendation (like they do with Element, Session, F-Droid, and Kicksecure) or have recommend Ubuntu with warnings attached like they do with Firefox, Brave, Mull, OpenPGP, VPNs, Nextcloud, Nitrokey, etc.

Anyways, just to reiterate, the main point of the post was to confirm that Ubuntu was a fine choice (in regards to privacy and security) as an alternative to Fedora and if anyone knew of any issues with replacing Snap with Flatpak on Ubuntu. (Though it would be great if the community would re-consider adding an Ubuntu recommendation in some form!)

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I use openSUSE Aeon, it’s by far the best linux distribution I ever used. I tried Ubuntu but it still has quite some issues…

You could install Toolbox or Distrobox to create container and install deb package inside this container.

That’s what I do on Aeon, it comes with distrobox, and it’s the second most recommended way of installing apps on Aeon after flatpak. It works great.

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I did consider using Toolbox on Fedora Silverblue or Kinoite. However, I’m not sure how much time I’d have to delegate to learning Toolbox or resolving any issues that may result from using it.

Either way, I still have issue #1 with Fedora, which I can’t get around. I guess I could try openSUSE Aeon or Kalpa as @Lukas suggested, but I’ve heard that openSUSE tends to be even more “advanced” than Fedora and I assume the support community is probably also small. If I ever get the free time I might give it a try, it just seems unlikely to be the “just works” distribution I’m looking for.

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The whole point of Aeon is to be a just works distribution. It tries to be like Android, iOS, etc., where you don’t have to mess around with your OS.

Who is openSUSE Aeon for?

It is NOT for everyone. Your highly customizable Tumbleweed & Leap Desktops are safe and will remain the best choice for those who want to tinker with their Desktop.

It should be perfect for lazy developers, who no longer want to mess around with their desktop and just ”get stuff done”, especially if they develop around containers.

It should also appeal to the same audience now more used to an iOS, Chromebook or Android-like experience where the OS is static, automated & reliable and the Apps are the main thing the user cares about.

I really like the goals that Aeon aspires to, it is one of the most interesting distros to me at this moment in time. But I’d suggest not using it at this point in time if you felt Fedora or traditional OpenSUSE distros were too complex, or the community support too limited, or the software selection insufficient.

Because:

  1. In my experience, Aeon is dead simple if you change nothing about your OS it has a steeper (and not very well documented) learning curve when (almost inevitably) do need to change something. Using an immutable linux distro has its advantages but we are in the early days, and compared to a traditional distro it requires a lot more conscious thought and informed decisions by the user compared to a traditional distro. With time that will change, but right now I think immutable linux distros are solidly in the early-adoption/experimental phase.
  2. Documentation is really sparse at the moment, it has been improving a bit, but is still pretty barebones, and there isn’t a large community to fall back on for help (yet)
  3. Aeon is not officially considered ready for general use (by its developer). Plenty of people (including myself) are already either using or testing Aeon, it isn’t unstable, but I’d tend to agree with its developer that its not yet quite ready for primetime.

One other thing Aeon does have going for it is a really active and involved developer who often answers questions and engages with the community.

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At some point I tried Silverblue before reinstalling Workstation again 3rd time in a couple of monthes. Like I will check it for a day and than… and I never did, that first install still works for almost 2 years allready lol. It just works and nothing kills it. I also love Fedora philosophy with four F. Have you tried their forum to ask for help? I think their community is actually very kind and helpful.

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Poor community support was the main problem I ran into with Fedora, as explained here:

The second issue I had might be solvable with an Ubuntu container using Toolbox (or maybe some alternative) but it still doesn’t seem like a safe bet as I discussed here:

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I think they are asking specifically if you tried the forum (which you do not explicitly say in your quoted comment). In my experience the Fedora community (and many Linux communities) can really differ depending on what platform you engaging on. Reddit for example has been flooded with an influx of newer users over the past couple years so the ratio of knowledgeable Fedora users to relative beginners on Reddit has dropped a lot since 2021ish as has the quality of discussion (in my subjective opinion). There are other smaller more focused communities that have been less affected by this influx though admittedly due to the smaller userbases it is often slower to get answers (but the answers are typically more knowledgeable). Ask Fedora would be one example.

Though as mentioned in my previous comment, I do agree with your impression, that when it comes to community support, and availability of resources/guides/howtos and instructions, nothing really compares to Ubuntu specifically and/or Debian based distros more broadly.

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Ohh my bad. I should’ve clarified, by “official places” I meant Fedora Discussion and by “unofficial” I meant Reddit and maybe a few other odd forums.

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If the 2nd point in OP ( Official application availability) is an issue, then openSUSE will be worse than Fedora. E.g. there is no official mullvad client for openSUSE, and .rpm they made for Fedora will not work (properly)

Distrobox might help, but that depends on type of programs you need. Again, probably not for VPN, or some other applications that are integrated into system.

Flatpak, Snap & AppImages do help, and make differences between various distros smaller than it was 10+ years ago, when it comes to programs availability.

Also, in some cases, even official flavors of supported distros (e.g. Kubuntu or Fedora KDE) might have issue with some programs that are packed for Ubuntu and Fedora

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You could always review the manifest file for the apps in question. Admittedly, it’s not a great experience, and it’s never good to hoist security on just you/ourselves.

In general though, I think the problem of apps being unofficial is somewhat mitigated by the sandboxing that Flatpak can provide (1). Like, the combination of apps that aren’t in the distro repos and is something I’d trust to run on my computer is rather small for me, so they’re usually something I’d try to sandbox if possible (exceptions for Bitwarden and Signal).

Canonical made it a bit of a pain to remove snap, but it is possible.


(1) The flatpak sandbox needs to be locked down considerably to be truly secure.

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With an app like Signal, it is more worrisome that it would break encryption intentionally or something like that. That’s also the kind of malware that made it onto the Snap Store: It was properly sandboxed, but it scammed people by posing as an app that it wasn’t and phishing users’ credentials.

Also I don’t feel comfortable checking manifests because I don’t trust myself spotting fishy stuff. Not techy enough for that, I guess, which is what me and @TheDoc are arguing about. That Ubuntu could be the lesser evil compared to people returning to Windows if Fedora doesn’t work for them or if their software isn’t made for that distro because they didn’t have the resources to make it work for them (ie by not being knowledgeable enough to fix issues or being dependent on a singular PC that hast to work like the OP).

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That’s odd, I am almost certain Ubuntu was the top recommended OS on PG only months ago.

It would be nice if OS’s were also lightweight as a criterion, as this is environmentally important. Privacy and the environment go hand in hand, as it takes energy to transmit your data across the globe. And unnecessary code can increase the attack surfaces of programs as well as requiring energy.

Obviously usability is one of the most important criteria.

I would be open to running unverified apps where security isn’t a major concern. For example, I could run the Steam application because the worst thing that can happen is someone accesses all my not-so-sensitive data and my password, which I can safely change because I’d have 2FA enabled. However with something like Signal or Bitwarden, I don’t see how sandboxing could protect me from a malicious version of those apps. They require internet access to work so all they’d need to do is take any of the data they can get within the application (conversations on Signal, my master password & password database on Bitwarden, etc) and send it out to their server.

That’s basically where I draw the line… With an application like a calculator, I won’t be providing it with any sensitive data and if it had internet access for whatever reason, it can (mostly) work offline so I can revoke internet access to it using Flatseal. But in the case of Signal or Bitwarden, I have to input and retrieve sensitive data and the applications need access to certain permissions (like internet access) to function.

Maybe there’s something I’m misunderstanding about sandboxing but that’s currently how I justify my avoidance of unverified Flatpaks for important apps like Signal.

Ubuntu has some decent security features such as secure boot OOTB and AppArmor security modules by default but LTS release cycles are not great for a desktop. And Ubuntu patches software and usually ships mixed software versions.
You might get an old GNOME desktop with new GNOME apps for example.

This doesn’t just affect cosmetic parts, it can also affect the security of the applications shipped by the distribution.

Fedora doesn’t have this problem since it ships vanilla packages that aren’t too customised. Fedora also updates the kernel, which means quicker bug fixes as well.

In the end, it’s obvious that both suck and you should go the way of Arch Linux. There’s a reason PG recommends against the Debian family.

Now for addressing your concerns :
Seeing your need for official applications, I guess that is reasonable. You could just use web apps if possible. Also, join the Matrix rooms of Fedora project. You can get live support for Fedora issues there.

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