> If you have a run-of-the-mill, garden-variety network configuration, it will not stop working every six months
The idea of what is 'run-of-the-mill' changes too frequently for my liking - for example, the last three Ubuntu releases have not supported wired networking out of the box (with differing varieties of breakage depending on the release and the machine in question).
I suspect the reason that the default configuration doesn't just attempt to make a DHCP connection has something to do with NetworkManager being expected to bring up the interface, but I've managed to get NM to bring up a wired connection on precisely one occasion - and that broke on the next release upgrade; certainly I've never seen it work automatically.
Unfortunately the only machine I have access to that has a wireless connection has some kind of Broadcom chip that I think needs special firmware that I've not bothered to track down, so I can't speak for how well wireless works on supported hardware. (I do apparently have a 'Broadcom STA propretary wireless driver' installed, but it seems that's not enough.)
Actually, now that I think about it there was an Ubuntu release a while back (it was around the release of KDE4.2, so presumably it was 9.04) which did get the wireless device in this machine to work without any special configuration that I can recall; alas the next release came along and hosed it so thoroughly that I couldn't figure out how to get any networking back *at all*, and eventually resorted to reinstalling from scratch.
In contrast, I have a rather more complex setup on my Debian systems which has worked reliably for many years, but they required a reasonable amount of technical knowledge to configure in the first place. But Debian has its own problems of course; there's no single option that won't periodically come with pain.