In 4 days Canonical will be releasing the final version of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron. With it will come Xubuntu 8.04, the Xfce version of what should be a Vista-killer. I've been testing it out and bordering on sheer joy at the improvements they've made since 8.04 Alpha 3. Once it went beta it got even better. This is my overview of what has changed and why you should adopt.
From the moment you boot from either the Desktop or Alternate CD you immediately see the difference. The Desktop CD boot menu looks completely different, and greatly simplified. Now the Live System can run from within Windows via Wubi. The menu is simplified to give the options to boot the Live environment, use a graphical installer, test the memory, or boot from the hard drive. It also allows you to choose the language before selecting anything, a big improvement for non-native English speakers. The graphical installer is really only for high memory systems, as it is just the Ubiquity installer running within a kiosk-locked Live environment. It's actually the same method we implemented in EONS version 0.3, and is a great way to do it. They also fixed the automount issue during installation and the partitioner in Ubiquity isn't as buggy as it used to be.
Older systems should still use the Alternate CD with the text installer. It's a much faster install than the previous versions as well. On my test system (3 GHz Dual Core Pentium 4, 512mb DDR400, 80GB hard drive, DVDRW) the text install took 13 minutes and the graphical install took 27.
The overall appearance is greatly polished, mostly from the upgrade to Xfce 4.4.2 and X.org using the new version 7.3. I've yet to find the X Terminal Crash in 8.04, the one we worked around in an earlier post. It also uses Firefox 3 Beta 5, my pick for slickest browser available. The repository also includes Openoffice.org 2.4, which I recommend installing. All the improvements and excellence of 2.4 could be a whole other post, but here are the release notes.
It also includes GIMP 2.4.5, which I prefer on any platform. I think it's just as good as Adobe Photoshop, but slicker and much cheaper for what most people do. Hardy comes installed with the Vinagre VNC Remote Desktop Viewer as well, which will help sysadmins or tech support personnel. It also comes with the gnome-games package, installing all the basic games.
It's looking more and more like Windows XP, which I consider crucial to Linux gaining a market share on Windows. They have rearranged the Settings menu and made it much easier to use for those familiar with Windows. So far I've also found improved driver support and plug and play network support. On the technical side it uses the new Linux kernel 2.6.24.
Most of the caveats are with their choices of default programs. They use Brasero as the default CD Burner, which is far better than xfburn, but I still find it more problematic than K3B. They've expanded the use of AppArmor as well, which I've only ever had problems with. One of the first things I did was remove it in fact. They still use Totem as a movie player, which is problematic at best. The biggest problem of all is the default font size. It's extremely small. I had problems getting it to enlarge even, which will be a major drawback for older users, it's even a pain for me and I'm only old to high schoolers.
Overall I recommend trying it out, which is even easier than before with Wubi. For those who have been using Linux for a while, back up your important files and get installing. For those who have been using Windows and want to make the switch: the time is now.