This relationship seems to have caused few problems in Ubuntu's early days. However, in the last couple of years, it has fed a steady undercurrent of discontent. While the Ubuntu community is in many ways a model of open source organization (ironically, in no small part to Canonical employees), Canonical appears to have become increasingly driven by the need to show a profit in its decision.
As a result, in the last couple of years, Canonical has intervened more and more in Ubuntu, issuing arbitrary degrees and creating a resentment that is readily apparent in any browsing through the project's mailing lists. Increasingly, it seems obvious that what is good for Canonical as a business may not be ideal for Ubuntu as one project within a larger community full of traditions.
You can easily assess Canonical. As a commercial company, it is judged on its ability to make a profit. Canonical hasn't done so, so you can judge it a failure so far without much fear of contradiction. Or, if that sounds harsh, you might prefer to say that Canonical is still being developed.
By contrast, no generally agreed-upon criteria exists for distributions. All the estimates of user bases are suspect, and other successes and failures can't be weighed one against the other. How, for example, do you evaluate the comparable importance of Ubuntu's early successful community-building and its current isolationism? The best you can say is that both influenced Ubuntu's development, and will continue to do so.
From the start, Ubuntu has been an amibitious project. That means that its successes and failures alike are large and often dramatic. But as Ubuntu moves into its eighth year, it defies definitive judgment. Although it almost assuredly has not succeeded as spectacularly as sometimes claimed, it has still come from nowhere to become a dominant distribution. And it’s likely to remain one for some years to come. Similarly, if it has failed in some of its efforts, so far, its failures have not been crippling.
In the end, Ubuntu proves to have been both more than anyone could have hoped seven years ago, and less than it could have been if all had gone well. That isn't the tidiest summary imaginable, but it does suggest that the next few years of Ubuntu should be even more interesting than the last seven.