Early on, Linux Mint was ahead of the pack when it came to making the installation of proprietary video drivers as simple as possible. Still, both Linux Mint and PCLinuxOS maintain a strong record of providing access to restricted software such as Flash player, out of the box. And small niceties such as this matter to a lot of people who use Linux today, regardless of what you might hear otherwise.
So where does this place the absolute newbie? Depending how little these users are willing to tackle early on, it very well might be best to turn them over to a totally "managed" Linux solution.
After all, some users are simply interested in the cost savings and not the perceived learning experience that switching to Linux can provide.
Which distribution is best for the totally "new to Linux" user?
If you're fine with being limited by your software installation options out of the box, you could try a distribution called Zonbu. For individuals who simply want their computers to work without having to worry about configuration, backing up, restricted codecs and so on, Zonbu is likely to be the best match overall.
Now the undeniable downside to selecting Zonbu is that you are very limited in the applications this distro happens to come with. Last time I checked, Zonbu still does not even provide the ability to use a document scanner.
In addition, there is also a complete lack of Bluetooth support as well. If you are willing to forgo the missing functionality, then perhaps Zonbu is a good alternative to trying to setup your own Linux box by yourself.
Filling in the gap for two distinctive groups of Linux users
Clearly, with the varying needs of individual users, there is no silver bullet that is going to meet everyone's needs completely. So selecting a single alternative distro might be the wrong approach to compensating for any potential Ubuntu vacuum.
Perhaps instead, we as a collective need to take the approach of supporting multiple distributions to make sure that no matter what the proprietary world might throw at us as Linux users, we will always have the freedom to choose.
And as we have seen from the proprietary operating systems, when things go badly with a single OS, your options are to switch platforms or worse, roll back to an older release of the problem OS.
Speaking for myself, I find this to be unacceptable. To that end, I am hopeful that desktop Linux users will continue to seek out new distributions for discovery and not become overly comfortable with the distros that theyre already familiar with.