Perhaps it's the catchy name. According to the Ubuntu home page:
"Ubuntu is an African word meaning 'Humanity to others', or 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. The Ubuntu distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world."
More likely, it's the savvy manner in which Ubuntu's prime mover, South African Internet entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, got the distribution off the ground. He funded its development an outgrowth of his efforts to offer improved educational opportunities to his nation's young people.
A point of clarification: "funded" is not meant to imply that Ubuntu was "developed" as some kind of separate non-Linux software effort. It's no different than most other distros, in that it evolved from the Linux code page (in Ubuntu's case, from Debian Linux).
What is different is the touchy-feely message with which the Ubuntu group presents its software. "The power of open source. On your laptop, desktop & server. Smart. Secure. Easy," promises the Ubuntu home page,, sans some punctuation marks, which I've helpfully added in.
"How is this Linux different than any other Linux?," you ask. Well, it's not.
Then there's the Ubuntu developer's page. The Ubuntu development process, it promises, "is transparent to the public, and open to contributions from the community."
"How is this development process different than any other Linux development process?," I hear you ask. Ah, it's not.
Maybe it's the celebrity angle. At last year's Java One conference, Ubuntu received a ringing endorsement from Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Now, we're getting warmer. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't name any Silicon Valley celebrities pumping up Fedora, Debian, or Gentoo. (Of course, Linus is, by definition, the biggest Linux celeb going, but he's distro-neutral.)
Speaking seriously for a moment, Ubuntu has succeeded where many other distros have fallen somewhat short. Namely, its developers have worked really hard to ensure that it's easy to install and configure. So hard, in fact, that our reviewer found that Ubuntu stacks up as a viable alternative to Vista. Not to mention, it can run well on machines which don't have quite the CPU or graphics power Vista requires.
I know, the Linux fan boys will pepper me with criticisms point out that many other distros are easy to install. Maybe, but not quite as easy, and that's a stumbling block that's kept Linux from growing beyond its measly two percent to three percent desktop share. Now, thanks to Ubuntu's ease of installation, and Vista's hardware requirements, the distro may finally give Linux some real client-side momentum.
But mostly, I think it's that friendly sounding name.