Ubuntu Linux will get a refresh this week, with improved security, virtualisation and management capabilities for servers.

Canonical, the commercial sponsor of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, said Ubuntu Linux 7.10 Server Edition and 7.10 Desktop Edition will be available Thursday as free downloads.

New features in Desktop Edition include: plug-and-play functionality for printers; desktop search; available 3D graphics and other screen effects; automatic installation of Firefox plug-ins; and improved compatibility with Windows.

New features of Server Edition include: enhanced security, including default protection for Apache and Postfix applications; more virtualisation capabilities, including a tailored Linux kernel designed for managing virtual appliances; and quick-start profiles supporting easier email, print and database server set-up. The OS can be deployed as either a guest or host in virtualised environments.

The new features of 7.10, “while not revolutionary, make Ubuntu a viable option in markets where it was not previously,” said Stephen O’Grady, an analyst with the research firm RedMonk.

Desktop Linux operating systems have a reputation for being “primitive and barely adequate,” O’Grady said, but the 3D feature in version 7.10 gives Ubuntu the opportunity to “match the eye candy” of the likes of Windows Vista and Apple’s OS X.

Ubuntu trails industry leaders Red Hat Linux and Novell Suse Linux in commercial Linux deployments, but is popular in the community environment, at least anecdotally, he said.

And like other Linux providers, Canonical hopes to win agreements from hardware manufacturers to install Ubuntu on servers or desktop computers. Dell announced in May plans to install Ubuntu on two of its desktops and one of its laptops, and possibly on Dell servers, according to an unconfirmed report.

Ubuntu 7.10 will be available as a free download regardless of whether it’s for community or commercial use, Canonical said. Canonical releases a new version of Ubuntu every six months with free upgrades and maintenance for 18 months. However, for large installations that require service-level guarantees, support is a commercial offering. Also, long-term support of three years on desktops and five years on servers, is not available on version 7.10, but will be on the next Ubuntu release in 2008.

Canonical is also releasing 7.10 versions of Ubuntu derivatives, including Kubuntu, which bundles Ubuntu with the K Desktop Environment; Edubuntu for the educational community; Gobunto for test and development; and Xubuntu for older computers that don’t meet the minimum specifications for running Ubuntu.