Ubuntu has released another version of its operating system, just six months after the previous one. Ubuntu 8.04, or Hardy Heron, follows the Feisty Fawn and Gutsy Gibbon releases of 2007 with the intention making Linux as desktop friendly as Windows or Mac OS X.

In addition to the steady stream of updated free software libraries and applications, the company said that Hardy Heron has a number of new features aimed at improving the desktop and server experience. Primarily that people new to Linux can use Hardy to install Ubuntu direct from a Windows desktop using Wubi.

Other new features include, PulseAudio to give more control over application sound and Xorg 7.3 to offer support for dynamic screen configuration. In addition, PolicyKit is now integrated into the desktop allowing control over user permissions and administrative applications to be run as a user. Additional security is also provided by native AppArmor and SELinux support, said Ubuntu.

Administrators can also use the new Vinagre remote desktop client which replaces the traditional xvnc client.

Hardy's server enhancements include KVM (and management tools) now being a fully maintained option for virtualisation, a quick option to install terminal services, integration with Active Directory, a new firewall, and iSCSI support.

Managing director of Sydney-based open source development and consulting firm Orbitec, David Peterson, said the release of Hardy Heron will bring Linux a lot closer to challenging Windows and Mac OS X on the desktop, not least because it is the next long-term support (LTS) release.

"With Dapper Drake [Ubuntu 6.06] the last LTS release, there was a lot of effort getting it running well, whereas the two others since were incremental releases," Peterson said, adding Ubuntu still has "a long way to travel" on the desktop as it is a moving target.

"The major challenges will be to continue to meet the more demanding expectations of desktop users [but] Ubuntu shines on stability and performance."

Orbitec, an Ubuntu affiliate, has deployed the operating system in numerous businesses, and Peterson believes out of all the Linux distributions it is by far the easiest to use for a new or inexperienced Linux user.

"It's our server and desktop of choice [and] Linux is now serious enough to run real world apps on it despite the FUD," he said. "And Ubuntu has been ready for some time. We've been running Debian and Ubuntu on Sun servers for years."

That said, Peterson concedes desktop Linux is "probably not" ready for the mass-market desktop as device support and simple front-end configuration tools are still a work in progress.

"Some of the challenges are around application support and the compatibility of file formats is also a big issue," he said. "It's not just technical obstacles, it's also political."

Peterson is looking forward to desktop nirvana with Linux and believes "we get closer with every release."

"It will be a little while, but hopefully not too long," he said.

The Ubuntu Linux project is online at http://www.ubuntu.com.