RALEIGH, N.C. – Linux on the desktop is taking a big step toward reality if the latest release of Fedora from red Hat is an example, early reviewers report.

In fact, the latest released codenamed Leonidas is off to a roaring start. (Leonidas is Greek for “lion’s son” – and it’s also the name of the Spartan King who led the immortal 300 against the Persians at Thermopylae.)

Given that Fedora 11 apparently is a pre-emptive strike at Microsoft’s Windows 7 coming later this year, Leonidas faces a Spartan-like challenge. But unlike King Leonidas who had few allies, has many.

How many? Release notes are available in 41 languages.

Red Hat, the parent of the open source Fedora desktop product, unveiled Fedora 11 on Tuesday. And Matt Asay, author of the Open Road blog at cnet, was gushing in his praise.

“This is, in fact, Fedora 11’s biggest selling point: ,” he wrote. “And fast, too: from powering on to logging in takes 20 seconds or less. Beat that, Windows!”

Any Windows user knows that’s impossible with Microsoft bloatware.

Added techtonic: “”

Techtonic praised the fast boot time as well as an update feature called “Presto.”

“Instead of replacing an entire package when it is updated Presto downloads just the differences between the old and new package, reducing downloads by up to 80% in some cases,” wrote Alastair Otto.

(Firefox, take note please!)

Red Hat’s still-new Chief Executive Officer Jim Whitehurst hasn’t been overly excited about Fedora, focusing as he should on Red Hat’s moneymaker – Enterprise Linux. However, the Fedora project shows Red Hat’s continuing desire to drive Linux deeper into the world’s infrastructure of PC users.

“But anyone thinking that Red Hat has somehow forgotten consumer markets in its rush to win the enterprise need only try the final release of Fedora 11, its community-focused operating system for desktops and laptops,” Asay said. “I’ve been evaluating Fedora 11 for the past week and find it polished and professional while meeting or beating Windows in key performance areas.”

Richard Adhikari, writing at Linux Insider,

“Fedora 11 has a redesigned virtual machine guest creation wizard, better security for virtual guests and an improved interactive console,” he wrote.

“It also has several improved desktop features, supports more video cards than Fedora 10, and makes it easier for software developers to cross-compile applications for both Linux and Windows clients on the same development platform.”

Interestingly, Fedora project leader Paul Frields told Adhikari that release 11 also provides insight into Red Hat’s Enterprise virtualization play.

"If you look at Fedora, you can see the future of Red Hat Enterprise virtualization products,” he said.

On that point, NetworkWorld stressed that Fedora 11 “includes virtualization console improvements that ease the task of moving between the host operating system and the guest operating system environments.”

Virtualization enables machines to support multiple operating systems and is a crucial ingredient for the fast-growing cloud computing market space. Just last week Red Hat and Verizon partnered on a cloud project.

Just maybe Fedora 11 will be the tool that takes millions to that cloud from a desktop near you – or your very own.