Ubuntu Linux's next release will appear on Thursday, sporting fresh virtualisation features and installation management tools, project sponsor Canonical said on Monday.

Canonical found a wide market for Ubuntu among end-users on the desktop, but has been increasingly pushing the distribution into businesses and servers. The two main new features in version 7.04, "Feisty Fawn", reflect that orientation.

The release supports KVM (kernel-based virtual machine), a relatively new virtualisation technique that allows certain systems to virtualise unmodified Linux instances in virtual machines. The software requires the hardware-based virtualisation support built into newer Intel and AMD chips.

It is also the first Linux distribution to support VMI and Para-Ops, which optimises performance under VMware. VMI (Virtual Machine Interface) is a standard proposed by VMware for describing the protocol that guest operating systems can use to communicate with the hypervisor.

Competitors such as Red Hat and Suse Linux have focused their virtualisation support on Xen, which Feisty Fawn also supports.

The new management tool allows administrators to upgrade servers in a simple, automated way, Canonical said. It gives administrators control over the upgrade process, letting them override decisions where required, and provides dependency checking and task upgrades.

For thin clients the release adds Jetpipe, which improves print and sound support, an improved printing architecture and sound server.

Other tweaks include performance improvements, secure remote network installation, UltraSparc installer changes and an updated LAMP stack.

Last week Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said Feisty Fawn's successor will be Gutsy Gibbon and will appear in October 2007. That release will include a version without any proprietary software, Shuttleworth said.

Ubuntu is based on Debian, which reached a major release last week, after months of delays. Ubuntu also partly competes with Debian; for instance, Linspire was formerly based on Debian but recently switched its allegiance to Ubuntu.