Then why is Ubuntu successful?
Clearly from looking at my rant about all that seems for me to be wrong in Ubuntu, enough to call it broken to the core, one then naturally has to ask: why Ubuntu is successfull and others are not? This is a question I got recently when showing this website. We'll get to it now.
Marketing, promise, business model and location. Those are the four reasons as to why Ubuntu got the mindshare. I do not equate mindshare with success, however. It is practically impossible to gauge Linux distribution installations around the world, because they don't generally phone home. Yet it is rather safe to estimate, that in business environments RHEL and SLED dominate. Furthermore we know that RHEL-derivatives like Scientific Linux are used in extremely systems critical operations in CERN. By amount of paying clients, Canonical is small player compared to RedHat and Novell. Mind you, even Valve opted for Debian as base distro for SteamOS instead of Ubuntu.
So how did Ubuntu succeed with marketing? It made a promise that it would forever remain free and open. It stated clearly that it aimed to be easy-to-use. Forever free desktop for the plebs! That is pretty much all it did and more importantly, it has sticked true to its words for a decade now. That has enabled it to grow not only mindshare, but the amount of users and to some extent community of developers, despite having somewhat hostile NIH-syndrome.
Promise like that is a mighty thing. Oldtimers like me do remember how Mandrake, the original free system for plebs, had legal and financical troubles which led to panic-forking and annihilation of community. If I recall correctly, it somehow ended up from France to Brazil after mutating to Mandriva by merging with Connectiva. That was rough ride. Canonical and Ubuntu along such has avoided such admirably, standing test of time. That has earned it a great degree of trust. This in turn translates into healthy community, which in turn translates into voluenteers and this into for example multiple spins such as Kubuntu, making Ubuntu wee bit closer to being somewhat of a standard platform by merit. People do like stability.
Canonical has not made their distro business model complex and prone to forking. This is very important. It only sells support, consulting and training. Unlike RedHat and Novell, it doesn't have a subscriber model to keep deployed systems updated. While not as lucrative, it also means that projects like CentOS do not emerge. This opens a potentially excellent source of income: working as middleman. And it does it. Ubuntu sells some software and books in Ubuntu Software Centre, taking slice of sales for itself. It also means that Ubuntu can sell its soul and become adware. Which it also did by integrating Amazon into default system search results.
Final piece of puzzle is geography. Canonical is located in Isle of Man. That means that unlike current king of the hill, RedHat, Canonical is not bound by US software patent laws which are somewhat insane, while mother Europe has practically none. That way it can distribute without much care codecs in installation phase and include pretty much anything in repositories. This obviously makes it more popular because it makes it fully functional. It is also free from the US Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”). Look it up. Legally forking off Canada based Debian is also a good call. Summed up, Canonical doesn't have to worry about FBI spooks raiding their offices every now and then for no apparent reason. It is honestly a small miracle that Silicon Valley is located in USA of all places.
While I obviously stand behind my words that Ubuntu may be the worst of distros technically, inherently prone to mishaps and random weird shit, all the other decisions Canonical has made are exemplary. World is a big and complex place and not everything can be won by pure technical brilliancy.