> In my opinion the only way to ever reach such ubiquity is if one particular distribution gets Apple or MS size marketing behind it
Think about this again. Do you really believe that most people (the 99%, you know) could be convinced to _replace_ the OS that's already installed in their machines?
I believe that they cannot be bothered, as long as it keeps working, more or less (it's unbelievable how much pain users can endure before fixing stuff).
No, the only way is to convince device _sellers_ to preload Linux, and then provide them with a version that can do whatever they want to do, with a minimum of fuss. That implies technical excellence, of course.
Remember netbooks? The very first ones that sold with Linux? Some claimed they were being returned because they didn't run MS Office. Today I don't see anybody returning their iPads because they cannot run Office, so odds are that this was not the real problem. Maybe the reason was that the Linux inside those machines was not exactly "excellent".
> Technical excellence will only get an OS so far, and any tweaking in the margins -- by shaving yet another few seconds off booting or having a standardised init system -- isn't going to make a platform more popular.
Maybe, or maybe not. Picture yourself having a dual booting machine, say a laptop or a tablet. You could chose to boot Windows 8 in a couple of minutes or Linux almost instantly (say, less than 10 seconds). Which one would you boot more often?