Ubuntu 8.04 is now available – the first major release since 7.10. Code named Hardy heron, 8.04 will look familiar to long-time Ubuntu users. But under the hood, 8.04 sports a new kernel (2.6.24-12.13), a new rev of Gnome (2.22), improved graphical elements (such as Xorg 7.3), a spiffy new installer (Wubi), the latest and greatest in software, enhanced security and of course more intelligent default settings. The build is free to download the desktop version from ubuntu.com.
The new Ubuntu installer comes with a new utility called Wubi. Wubi can run as a Windows application, which means that Windows users will be able to more easily transition and learn about Ubuntu. Wubi can perform a full installation of Ubuntu as a file on a Windows hard drive. This means that you no longer need to install a second drive or perform complicated partitioning on an existing drive. When you boot up Ubuntu the system reads and writes to the disk image as though it were a standard drive letter, much like VMWare would do. Ubuntu can also be uninstalled as though it were a standard Windows application using Add/Remove Programs.
The new application set is solid. Firefox 3.0 comes pre-installed. Brasero provides an easier interface for burning CDs and DVDs. PulseAudio now gets installed by default (which is arguably a questionable decision but we found it worked great for us). The Transmission BitTorrent client is now included by default. Vinagre provides a very nice and streamlined VNC client for remote administration (although the latency for remote users is still a bit of a pain compared to the Microsoft RDP protocol). Inkscape has always been easy to install and use, but the popular Adobe Illustrator-like application it now comes bundled with Ubuntu.
In order to play nicer in the enterprise, the security infrastructure of Ubuntu has also had a nice upgrade. The Active Directory plug-in is provided using Likewise Open (unlike Mac OS X which sees a custom package specifically for this purpose). There is a new PolicyKit which provides policies similar to GPOs in Windows or MCX in Mac OS X. The default settings in 8.04 are also chosen with a bit more of a security mindset. New memory protection is built into 8.04, primarily to make exploits harder to uncover and prevent rootkits. Finally, UFW (uncomplicated firewall) is now built into the system to make firewall administration more accessible to the everyday *nix fan.
Network Administrators will be impressed by the inclusion of many new features. KVM is included in the Kernel and lib-virt and virtmanager are provided to make Ubuntu a very desirable virtualization platform. iSCSI support provides more targets with which to store those virtual machines and also expanded storage for those larger filers (eg – using Samba 3). Postfix and Dovecot provide a standardized mail server infrastructure out of the box. CUPS in 8.04 now supports Bonjour and Zeroconf protocols as well as the solid standbys of SMB, LPD, JetDirect and of course IPP. Those building web servers will be happy to see Apache 2, PHP 5, Perl, Python and Ruby on Rails (with GEM) and of course Sun Open JDK (community supported). If you need the database side of things there’s MySQL, Postgresql, DB2 and Oracle Database Express.
However, if you are just starting out keep in mind that Ubuntu Server does not come with a windowing system by default – so beef up those command line skills sooner rather than later! We are also still waiting for a roadmap for integrating much of the more Enterprise or Network-oriented packages. For example, we now have the PolicyKit and a solid Active Directory client. But how do we push out en masse the policies that we want our users to have post imaging?
So if you use Ubuntu or are interested in getting to know the Linux platform then 8.04 is likely a great move. It’s solid, stable and much improved over 7. It’s easier to migrate, virtualize and work in. The developers should be proud!