5. Encrypted Home Directories
Encrypted home directories are a major security and privacy solution. Unfortunately, the tools for creating them require a degree of expertise.
Ubuntu was the first major distribution to reduce the complexity of home directory encryption to the selection of a check box, and making it an option for desktop users. It's a precaution that few other distributions not derived from Ubuntu have bothered to include, even though the delay in starting and stopping the system is minimal on a modern computer.
6. Community Building
The idea of a new distribution seemed unlikely when Ubuntu first appeared. However, Ubuntu quickly gained followers and users. It now supports a large and enthusiastic community, not just of developers or documentation writers, but also of Local Communities (LoCos), volunteers who promote the distro in a specific region.
Much of the success of this community building seems due to community manager Jono Bacon. Hired in 2006, Bacon has not only coordinated these volunteer efforts, but in the most literal sense, has written the book on community organizing: The Art of Community, one of the most thorough and practical books on management that I've read. Another of his innovations is Ubuntu Accomplishments, a set of awards for having done certain tasks.
7. Concern About Usability
From the start, Ubuntu has emphasized usability. That emphasis was unusual in 2004, when FOSS was still more about features than design and GNOME had barely formulated its Human Interface Guidelines, much less implemented them.
However, by continually discussing the subject and experimenting with usability, Ubuntu made other developers aware of the need to think about the subject.
The result has been mixed, to say the least, and has often over-emphasized new users at the expense of experienced ones. Still such an awareness was necessary for the free desktop to reach its modern maturity. Without Ubuntu, usability would probably have received far less emphasis in the last decade.
None of these negative points make Canonical and Ubuntu evil, and none of the positive ones make them allies of the angels, either. Instead, together they suggest Canonical and Ubuntu are a mixed influence, supporting the rest of the FOSS community or pursuing their own commercial goals, depending on what is most convenient at the moment.
Such a statement should hardly be a revelation. Yet in many circles, it apparently is. Considering how much hope has been invested in Canonical and Ubuntu over the years, and how they have sometimes blundered through inexperience, feelings inevitably run high when they are discussed.
But instead of praising or criticizing Ubuntu and Canonical wholeheartedly, it seems more reasonable to approach them without expectations, judging them by their actions rather than their marketing or their past.
The sooner we can take that attitude, the sooner we can accept Ubuntu and Canonical for what they are: another corporate interest trying constantly to negotiate its exact relation with free software — one for whom both our praise and blame are equally irrelevant.