As a Linux user (and user of other open source software), I’m generally one to bring it up as an option when I hear someone talk about computer problems (mostly Windows-related). Some people take an interest, and give it a go. Others note the things they do that are Windows-specific. Still others couldn’t care less about what their comptuer actually runs.
At any rate, thanks to Ubuntu, Linux is now within the reach of more people. The user interface has been polished quite well, to the point where many of the issues people might have with it have more to do with being better aquainted with a different system like Windows than with actual technical problems. (The interface is Gnome in Ubuntu’s case, but I think this goes for KDE, XFCE, and other desktops as well.) In fact, for some areas you might say the interface is better. (I know someone who prefers Gnome to OS X’s Aqua also.) And, thanks to livecds, Ubuntu is spreading.
The interesting thing is the reaction from the Linux community. Particularly, that of Gentoo Linux. Gentoo is a distribution meant for power users; you basically build the system up from source code when you install it. (Presently they don’t recommend you compile the entire system, though years ago this was what I did for my first install. It took me three days, partly because I didn’t know what I was doing so much.) As such, there can be a small amount of elitism as people contemplate whether or not distributions like Ubuntu are good, due to the fact that there are now grandmothers using Linux systems and others who otherwise would not have access to them. There is some cause for concern here; after all, this means that in a way public perception of Linux in general may begin to ride largely on how well Ubuntu is maintained.
I’ve used Gentoo a lot (and still do on a couple servers), and it’s a great system. However, on the desktop it could frustrate me sometimes. It is a very bleeding-edge distro, and so while I would end up using the new versions of all the software, sometimes things would break. After a while I decided I would rather spend more time using my desktop than configuring it, and so when I built my new computer I decided on Ubuntu. In addition, I’ve switched a few of my friends as well as my brother to it, and they have been happy. They haven’t had a lot of trouble searchign forums and Google when they encounter problems, and overall it works out well for them. I don’t think that making Linux more user friendly is a bad thing, you just have to keep in mind that it is diverse. It is many things to different people; to some it is a desktop, to other it’s a server, to still others it’s an embedded system, etc. And, for those making the switch, just remember that you are switching to a new operating system. Of course it will be a little weird, it was for me.