A trio of alpha releases have hit the virtual streets; Ubuntu 8.04 Alpha 4 February 2nd, Fedora 9 Alpha 1 the 5th, and openSUSE 11 Alpha 2 the 8th. And, yes, they are indeed alphas.
Ubuntu 8.04 Alpha 4, Hardy Heron
The most mature of the early releases. I've burned and booted both Ubuntu since it's been my experience that the KDE version of Ubuntu (Kubuntu) is the weakest KDE distribution I've ever experienced.
Ubuntu booted on every machine I could throw it at. To me this underscores a high overall level of professionalism with regards to its development as well as a good level of maturity at this point in time with the distribution. It is my belief that, even if the release is an alpha, that it should at least successfully boot into the graphical desktop on every machine that the current production release works on unless explicitly stated otherwise. Ubuntu has successfully booted on all my hardware since Alpha 1, and it has exhibited this capability since Ubuntu 7.04.
My only concern with Hardy Heron is the version of the included ATI/AMD graphic card drivers. The drivers appear to be based on the ATI 7.10 release. These are the first ATI drivers to have 'experimental' AIGLX support. This now duplicates the same feature found in the nVidia drivers, and removes the need for Xgl. Unfortunately, in my testing, there are still issues with running the Compiz desktop with other OpenGL applications on Gutsy Gibbon with those drivers. You can run one or the other, but not both. I'm currently running with the 8.1 version of the ATI drivers.
Although you can find more information as to what's new on the Ubuntu wiki, there's really nothing driving me to step up to 8.04 at the moment. Gutsy Gibbon with the latest ATI drivers gives quite the performance boost with my ATI 1950 card. And no, I don't have Compiz enabled. In fact, with the latest drivers installed Compiz is now broken on Gutsy Gibbon and can't be enabled. That's no problem for me, as I can easily live with the current desktop.
Fedora 9 Alpha 1
Fedora 9, as did Fedora 8, comes stumbling out of the development gate and onto my systems. It quickly became evident that Fedora 9 Alpha 1 would not boot to the graphical desktop on any of my systems that contained an ATI graphics chip. If they contained an nVidia graphics system then they would come up - slowly. I downloaded and booted both live ISOs, both the Gnome and KDE 4.
Call it testing fatigue, but I am tired of Fedora's lack of quality compared to the rest of the distributions. For me the high point with regards to releases occurred sometime around Fedora Core 6 and Fedora 7. Fedora 8, in spite of its fancy wallpaper and theme, has many fundamental problems, driven in large part by its groups desire to provide 'unencumbered' alternatives to many drivers, codecs, and other alternatives such as IcedTea as a replacement for Sun's Java Developers Kit, or JDK. Please. IcedTea has been going on for so long, in various forms, that the whole OpenJDK effort is about to be OBEd by Sun's making Java GPL compliant. And isn't this what the purists wanted all along? So why do I have to have IcedTea/OpenJDK shoved down my throat via Fedora 9? I don't, and I can thank my lucky stars for alternative distributions that provide 'true' Java from Sun.
This will be the last time I both Fedora. The only good thing to come out of Fedora 8 was the Nodoka theme, which I have long since installed on Ubuntu.
openSUSE 11 Alpha 2
All alpha versions of openSUSE 11 have booted without issue, just like Ubuntu. Yes, they have alpha teething problems, but at least these latest releases reach an operational level stable enough so that those problems can be observed and reported.
I've booted both the Gnome and the KDE 4.0.1 live CD versions, and I've been favorably impressed. Even though the KDE version has a number of issues, once up and running I've been suitably impressed by KDE 4 that I'm actually looking forward to openSUSE 11. I'm especially eager to see what progress the KDE version will show in Alpha 3, due mid-March. There are some serious issues in KDE 4 (which I'll talk to in a later post), but they shouldn't be that hard to fix.
Where's the pretty pictures?
I thought about wasting bandwidth with lots of screen shots, but there are already so many out there now that it would truly be a waste of bandwidth. I'll certainly include them in the future to illustrate an important point, but there was no need to this time.