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First Look: Ubuntu 8.04 'Hardy Heron'

Ubuntu Version 8.04, code-named "Hardy Heron," was released last week. I use open source Linux-based Ubuntu for practically all of my work on a daily basis, and I've grown accustomed to Canonical's six-month release cycle. Although I've had minor hang-ups when updating the OS, each new version has always shown improved quality. There was no exception to that trend when I tried out Version 8.04.

The most significant improvement by far in Hardy is Wubi, a new utility that works with Microsoft Windows. Wubi lets a novice user install Ubuntu on top of Windows without having to modify hard disk partitions. Messing with partitions can be dangerous and data can be lost if something goes wrong. Wubi removes all of the risk of a conventional install by creating a large file in the Windows filesystem that is treated like a virtual disk to house the Ubuntu installation.

Wubi also modifies the Windows bootloader to allow the user to choose whether to boot into Windows or Ubuntu. This approach is a safer alternative than supplanting the Windows bootloader with Grub. In a worst-case scenario, the system can become unbootable when using the Grub option. The Wubi Ubuntu install can be removed using the Windows Add/Remove Programs list, which is another advantage that it has over a conventional install.

You can find a step-by-step guide for using Wubi here.

Hardy is deemed a long-term support release, and Canonical is emphasizing its stability and reliability for this go-around. However, for those wanting to take a look at it without committing, they can test-drive the OS by means of a "live CD," without making changes to their current system.

I used the live CD to review the OS, rather than upgrade from my current Ubuntu Version 7.10 (code-named "Gutsy Gibbon").

Hardy's live CD ran faster than that of previous versions, and it comes with a wide assortment of software that lets the average user get to work right away, such as image editing programs, media players, utilities and the OpenOffice.org 2.4 office suite. Additional software can even be downloaded from the Ubuntu repositories for the duration of the live CD session. Hardy's auto-detection of hardware was flawless, enabling everything on my system to work with full functionality without any additional configuration. I found some improvements with the use of Compiz Fusion, a windowing enhancement utility that makes use of 3D acceleration. Compiz Fusion was rather glitchy for me when Ubuntu Version 7.10 came out last year, but it seems improved under Ubuntu Version 8.04.

Hardy has many new things that Gutsy did not have by default. Hardy supports built-in GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) encryption, and comes with Firefox 3 Beta 5 Web browser. Firefox 2 is nearing its end of life, so Canonical probably included the beta version for that reason. CD/DVD burning has been improved in Hardy with the inclusion of the Brasero utility. Brasero consolidates the various data/audio burning applications that were present in Gutsy, and it does the job well. The clock applet has been enhanced, with new functionality that shows global time zones and localized weather in addition to time and date. A full list of new features and other information may be found here.

Hardy is definitely worth trying as it makes Ubuntu easier to use. Ubuntu ISO images can be downloaded from the Ubuntu Web site or through Bittorrent.

About the Author

Will Kraft is a Web designer, technical consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached at will@willkraftblog.com. Also, check out his blog at http://www.willkraftblog.com.

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