The release of Jaunty Jackalope (Ubuntu 9.04) on April 23 might have been the most celebrated open source operating system release to date -- with 110 release parties taking place across the globe. But here's the twist: This wasn't the result of a corporate PR machine. Instead, the parties involved  the efforts of individual Ubuntu community members.

I attended a release party in my home town of Manchester, England to find out just why so many people felt the need to celebrate.

Held in the bar at the BBC, the event, organised by Ubuntu UK loco team with the help of Manchester Free Software members. Over 100 people had signed up to attend and not long after I arrived the room was packed with people.

The Changing Face of Ubuntu

It wasn't just a room full of netbook wielding techys in Ubuntu t-shirts either, though there were many of those. There were a lot of, well, normal people. Ubuntu seems to have achieved what no other linux distro has done before and has broken free of the tech community to be embraced by the masses. It truly is "Linux for Human Beings."

This feeling was shared by event organiser Lucy Bridges:
"I was amazed by the level of interest and participation. I think Ubuntu is so interesting to so many people, partly because it's a great operating system that 'just works' for new and old users alike but mostly because of the wonderful community. Ubuntu has developed a reputation for friendliness that extends to real world events, meaning that people who wouldn't normally go to a traditional 'geek' meet up, are happy to go to an Ubuntu event."
As the night carried on I spotted someone darting about the place who came over and introduced himself as Gordon Allott of the Ubuntu UK loco team and explained he was on a mission to introduce himself personally to everybody there to raise awareness of the team.

I asked Gordon what he thought it was that made Ubuntu so popular:
"What really shines out is the community. Ubuntu is all about promoting the community at large and about making sure that the community stays healthy and well rounded. It's great to see so many people coming out either in support of Ubuntu, the Ubuntu community or just to meet like minded people.

"You never see Gentoo release parties or Fedora release parties or anything like that. There is nothing specifically unique about Ubuntu the software that makes us organise release parties all over the world, I think its just that the community really wants an excuse to get out there and say 'Hello, Hi, How are you?'"

People Matters

It is certainly this friendly community that has helped Ubuntu become more than just an operating system. I get the feeling it could almost be regarded as a kind of lifestyle accessory, just in a different way to how Apple and Microsoft's PR make their products like lifestyle accessories.

Ubuntu could be seen as a statement of individuality or an anti-capitalist choice. Indeed I came across an Ubuntu-using accountant more interested in the political agenda of the free software movement than technical specifications.

The important point to take from this is that Ubuntu has built up an increasing following and a 6 monthly release cycle is the key to stimulating ongoing interest. While the more tech savvy members of the community can get excited about the the new innovations every 6 months, everyone can get excited about each release just being new. Everybody knows that new is better, especially when you can all get together and celebrate with beer.

Contributing blogger Guy Thouret is a software engineer for a wireless energy management system company. He has used various GNU/Linux distributions since 2002.