Ubuntu 10.10, the Maverick Meerkat, will be released in just a couple of weeks. That got me reflecting on the fact that I have been a happy user of Ubuntu for what must be over 5 years now. That's a long time!
The GNU/Linux variants are the only OSes I've used where I really have the flexibility to define my own workflow (example). So they are a pleasure to use (ok, most of the time). I use a computer for many, many hours a day nearly every day. And the time spent customizing software and learning it is a drop in the bucket when it's amortized over the months and years I'm going to spend using it. Sure, Windows and Mac OS are a bit more learnable and easier to get started with— but they are much less usable. And for me, and most other people who sit at a computer for a living, that is precisely the wrong optimization to make.
There's plenty more to love about Ubuntu: for starters, that it runs on every piece of hardware you throw at it; how with a modest amount of effort, you can make all the computers you use behave exactly the same; and how great apt is (really, it takes the fear and hassle out of installing software, and it's an experience that no proprietary desktop OS comes close to).
Ubuntu is far from perfect, but it is pretty marvelous, and all the GNU/Linux operating systems have come a long way in the last 5 years. When I step back, I'm a bit astonished that Ubuntu or anything like it even exists at all. It works, it's powerful, it's free of charge, and, with small carve-outs, all of it is free for anyone to do anything they wish with it.
One thing I rarely stop thinking about is how technology can be made to be an instrument of empowerment. And I believe that one necessary step in that direction is ensuring that you are the master of all these amazing devices you carry around with you all the time: that they serve you and carry out your will, and not the other way around. Ubuntu has this vast collection of software you can use as the substrate for doing anything, and the question isn't "Will the creators of this software give you permission to do this?" but rather "Who the hell is going to stop you?".
I find this an incredibly heartening idea, almost a cousin of the concept of Turing's universal machine— the possibility, realizable in software, that you are limited by nothing other than your imagination. Unfettered computation is really a magical thing. And Ubuntu is a wonderful demonstration of that assertion, though by no means the only one.
So, to everyone that helped to make this possible (Canonical; the Ubuntu community; Debian developers; kernel developers; upstream maintainers and contributors of all stripes; and yes, even the folks working on other downstreams, like RH/Fedora— your code makes its way into Ubuntu too):
You have truly helped to make something wonderful, and it's a real gift to humanity. Thank you.