There's a ritualistic sense of excitement to the release of Ubuntu 11.4, dubbed Natty Narwhal.
Most of the reviews have centered on Unity, the Canonical-created shell that recreates Windows features but requires some hardware acceleration to work.
What's most disquieting is Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth's own blog post on the release.
It's not what it says so much as how it says it. This looks like it was done by a committee, not a person.
Ubuntu’s killer feature remains that community. The spirit of Ubuntu is about understanding that the measure of our own lives is in the way we improve the lives of others. Ubuntu has both economic and human dimensions: it is unique in bringing those together in a way which enables them to support one another. The fact that so many people recognise that their time, energy and expertise can have the biggest possible impact when expressed through Ubuntu is what makes their individual contributions so much more valuable.
That's PR, and nothing but.
As markets grow, as market leads become entrenched, it gets harder-and-harder for the little guy to compete at the heart of the stack.
The Linux kernel is competitive because it's not just one company, but the efforts of many different server companies, everyone who “back in the day” had their own Unix now contributing to strike Windows in what was always its Achilles Heel, scalability.
Mozilla competes for much the same reason, its target being Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and its aim being a more neutral platform (this aim hasn't changed since the Netscape days).
Apache and Eclipse are also relevant because they represent shared infrastructure, their best programmers all being employed by one vendor or another (sometimes a succession of vendors) who make those salaries contributions to the effort, and extract both code and expertise in return.
Ubuntu remains tied to a single, relatively small company in London (although legally it's in a tax haven between England and Ireland), and to one man's vision. Well, the 1980s called, and they want their business model back.
None of this is to argue with what Ubuntu has accomplished. It remains important in the server space, and it remains vital in non-English speaking nations, especially in Asia and Africa where the language spoken by the people isn't familiar to the global mainstream. It's a driver of lower-cost computing in many places where even Moore's Law finds it hard to reach. And the Ubuntu people, from Mark Shuttleworth on down, have always been a great bunch of people.
But an Ubuntu release is no longer big news, and may never be big news again. Because the computing mainstream has moved on.