I first played with Ubuntu near the end of 2008 as part of my work with a company building a virtual PC platform controlled via the Internet (they called it SaaS, but that's not what SaaS stands for). I liked the OS but was aware then of its limitations in terms of compatibility and ease-of-use for more intermediate tasks-level like handling dual monitors.
Later the following year I made the move from Windows - which I'd used ever since my 486 was unboxed in 1995 - to the Mac, having bought an iPhone and a MobileMe account. I still periodically checked back in with Ubuntu having completely fallen out of love with Windows, and with the latest iteration of that OS I don't think I'll be looking at it again soon (Windows, I mean).
Now while installing it as a virtual machine on my Mac, I'm aware how far it's come, and in some cases the way it outguns the competition. For one thing, you can configure your machine (setting the timezone and language preferences) and even browse the web while you're installing Ubuntu. It definitely still has its nerd roots showing, so isn't yet an OS for the average consumer, but it's heading quickly in the right direction. And there's a small chance that their latest development could see them on an even faster track.
Ubuntu for phones is the organisation's latest leap forward, and something that got me a little excited. If you're at all interested, here's the "virtual keynote" presented by founder Mark Shuttleworth:
What I find interesting is that, unlike Windows Phone, Android and iOS, Ubuntu is in essence the same operating system that you get on the desktop, just with a more suitable UI (not a scaled down one, but one that has been specifically designed for small devices). I already use Ubuntu servers so the idea of having one system to rule all my digital life which is open and free (or PWYW) is really appealing.
Like the latest iteration of the desktop OS, Ubuntu for phones treats HTML5 webapps as first-class citizens, then gives developers a set of hardcore tools so they can build apps in C. Personally I'll hang on until an intermediary service like Titanium adds support for the platform, as I've been in rapid development too long to tinker with those powerful, albeit super-involved tools.
Of course it's incredibly early days yet. There aren't any handsets announced yet, and there was no mention of the tablet market, but it did make me wonder if, in a couple of years' time we'd see people with Ubuntu phones who had no idea it was also a system that could power their laptop.
I'm still quite happy in my Apple universe (I love my smaller iPad and my bigger iPhone), but I feel its peak is only years away, which may give Ubuntu time to gain a small patch of ground.
I don't really know if the desktop market is something Canonical is all that interested in, but if they are there's a lot of work still to do: get Adobe on board to roll out its Creative Suite, and bring some of the consumer apps creative hobbyists like me are used to (Windows Movie Maker vs iMovie or GarageBand vs [no equivalent for Windows]). If the company putting money into Ubuntu doesn't want to pull a RIM and put all its eggs in the enterprise basket, these things will be worth considering once they enter the consumer mobile space in earnest.
Neither Canonical nor, I suspect the open-source community can be expected to deliver all of this, so there will be space for commercial players. I think the next couple of years could be an exciting time for people interested in a viable third option for their home computers, and if the open-source community can put the kind of effort into developing Ubuntu for phone and desktop as is being put into Android (to make it a viable competitor to iOS in usability terms), then I know where my digital life will be moving to.