I was reading the text of an interview with Mark Shuttleworth from a couple months ago and this jumped out at me:
One of the things we’ve noticed is that the size of our community doubles from release to release
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Q: How do you sort the hype from reality in this current wave of Internet companies?
A: I look for doubling effects. I look for things that continue to see doubling in size. The instant messenger ICQ launched in 1996. By the time I signed up, six weeks later, they had 65,000 downloads. Back then the word-of-mouth network wasn’t so efficient. […] It’s easy to get doubling effects inside a passion chamber — all the people who care about something will check it out. It’s hard to have it double forever. The trick is to know if it has a chance to jump from the passionate few to the unpassionate many.
Its certainly clear that Ubuntu has the potential to make that leap; based on my anecdotal evidence of having installed Ubuntu on my neighbor’s computer and on her daughter/granddaughter’s computer and all three of them being quite happy with it (as they enjoy it ‘just working’ while at the same time lacking the malware and porn popups) I think that if a major manufacturer preloaded Ubuntu it would help bridge the gap (after all, ‘average users’ don’t partition HDs, install OSs or even install much software).
The next version of Ubuntu, Edgy Eft, is due by the end of the month; its not supposed to be as stable or polished as Dapper, but it should have some very cutting edge features…