- Ubuntu had a vision: Mark Shuttleworth took a good look at desktop Linux and tried to identify where it was lacking. He decided that eight million applications on twenty-five CDs made Linux difficult for new users. His policy was to distribute a single CD with only the best of each kind of application installed. These applications wouldn't be called by name, but by purpose, reducing the confusion to new users.
Following Standards: Ubuntu puts a lot of effort into the organization of the software, and they follow the recommendations of Freedesktop.org, insuring that whatever they do can be taken and used by anyone else following those standards. Gutsy sees the addition of XDG base directories. Hopefully we will see applications begin to look in these directories by default.
- Commitment to progress: Canonical (Ubuntu's umbrella corporation) made early commitments to in areas that didn't have strong applications. Mplayer and Xine were decent movie players at the time Ubuntu came out, but they both skirt the edge of copyright infringement, making them less-than-optimal. Canonical committed to the GStreamer backend early on, even though it had fewer features at the time, because they saw that it would provide a consistent and well-structured way to do audio and video in Linux. The developers worked together with the Gnome project to make this happen. A lot of new Linux distributions repackage stuff and stop at that. Certainly the larger ones like Red Hat and Suse have quite a few developers on staff, but few others add capabilities to applications. Geexbox is a great project and spends an enormous amount of time on the glue holding stuff together, but the developers don't really work on the MPlayer or Xine movie players. Right now, Ubuntu is working hard to bring the Telepathy framework up to speed, which will do for IM, video chat, and telephony what GStreamer did for audio and video.
- Easy application installation: Some developers complain about the Add/Remove application (available under the Applications menu) duplicating the function of the Synaptic Package Manager (available under System -> Administration). Synaptic isn't very user-friendly. Sure, it's not difficult to use, but compare it to the simple Add/Remove interface and you'll see what I'm talking about. Add/Remove made finding and installing new software easy-peasy.
- Community: Ubuntu made an early and large commitment to a user community. Fedora was always second to Red Hat -- everyone knew it was the place to dump and test all the unstable stuff. Suse (at that time) didn't distribute for free. Ubuntu's "community version" is the same as the "enterprise version," and always will be. There's no per-seat limit -- no CPU limitation. It was free and community oriented. The forums encouraged regulars to sign an agreement on how to approach new users with problems so that everyone felt included. Canonical "got" Open Source from the moment it left the gate. You o not know how rare this is. Think of Linspire, Xandros, and Xara XTreme as bad examples.