Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron" has just entered the beta phase of development - and that means another 650+MB download and some good hands-on time with my favorite Linux distro!
I first took a look at Ubuntu 8.04, codenamed Hardy Heron, back in February when it was in the Alpha 4 stage. While that release was functional, it was also a bit unfinished and a little rough in places. This beta release in comparison is a lot more polished and refined. There are still a small number of known bugs that need dealing with, but overall "Hardy Heron" is racing towards the finish line.
Making it easier for Windows users to experience Ubuntu
For non-Linux users out there, the most significant changes present in Ubuntu 8.04 will be those related to making it easier to take Ubuntu for a test spin without hosing an existing Windows installation.
The first change that the Ubuntu dev team have made in the hopes that it will encourage Windows users to become Ubuntu users is the addition of Wubi. Using Wubi users can install and later uninstall Ubuntu through Windows as though it's a Windows application in its own right. No partitions or changes to the bootloader are required to play with Ubuntu.
The next change aimed at converting Windows users is the umenu launcher. This works in conjunction with Wubi and allows the user to decide how to install Ubuntu. The advantage that umenu offers is that it works independent of whether the user has set the CD/DVD drive as the first boot device, thus making the first rung onto the ladder of being an Ubuntu user even lower.
GNOME 2.22 and Nautilus
Hardy Heron beta incorporates GNOME 2.22 which brings with it a whole raft of new features, changes, fixes and improvements (I'll cover some of these later). One of the most significant changes is the new Nautilus file manager that uses the GVFS virtual file system.
Firefox 2.0 has been replaced by Firefox 3.0 Beta 4 as the default browser in Ubuntu. This updated version of Firefox integrates better with the rest of the Ubuntu 8.04 UI.
CD and DVD burning just got a lot easier with Brasero. While this application is nowhere near as versatile (or dizzyingly complex) as a disc burning suite such as Nero, I like Brasero because it’s wonderfully quick and easy to use packed with all the useful features I need.
World Clock applet
Technically the World Clock applet is a GNOME 2.22 improvement but I included it here are a significant Ubuntu change. It supports multiple time/weather display and is easily customizable.
Transmission has become the default BitTorrent client, replacing the GNOME BitTorrent download utility. It’s small, fast and easy to use. Can't ask for much more!
Vinagre VNC client
Another Ubuntu application that been replaced is xvnc4viewer. In its place is Vinagre. This allows the user to work with multiple systems from the one desktop. Not only will this allow users to remote desktop into other Ubuntu systems but it will also allow users to connect to Windows XP and Windows Vista systems where remote desktop has been enabled.
I'll admit to being very impressed by the System Monitor utility in Ubuntu.
PolicyKit is a security/privilege feature that allows an administrator to unlock certain features to allow their use by a normal user.
Also new is the Authorizations panel. This allows an administrator to have total control over what system functions each user is able to access.
Some other Ubuntu 8.04 changes worth noting include:
The upgraded kernel (now 2.6.24-12.13), which brings with it power management for 64-bit users, kernel-based virtualization and the "Completely Fair Scheduler" process.
The PulseAudio sound server that allows advanced audio operations to be carried out on the sound data as it is transferred between the application and the sound hardware.
Active Directory support.
The inclusion of ufw (Uncomplicated Firewall) host-based firewall.
I like Ubuntu. With each incarnation I'm seeing improvements and betterments that make the OS better, more robust, more user friendly and more fully-featured. In fact, Ubuntu 8.04 is the first Linux distro that I've come across that I would consider loading onto my notebook to replace Windows. Throughout my testing Ubuntu 8.04 beta has been reliable and performed flawlessly.
Bottom line, Hardy Heron is, for me at least, the best Linux distro ever.
The final release of Ubuntu 8.04 has been scheduled for release in April.