As far as I know, nothing really sets Ubuntu apart from other distributions with regards to proprietary drivers; Mr. Shuttleworth simply chose to enable the ATI and nVidia drivers for Feisty as to enable the new version of Ubuntu to compete graphically with OS X and Vista out-of-the-box (through the use of Compiz/Beryl). Canonical is also looking into enabling more proprietary drivers in the future to support network devices such as WinModems, Atheros (Mac) and the Intel 3945 chipset.
However, the decision to include these drivers by default has irked a large majority of the Ubuntu community. My personal opinion is that Ubuntu should be free, and if people want to install these drivers, then it should be their business -- and made easy to do so. For example, if you want to play a media file in Feisty that your system does not have a codec for, Ubuntu prompts you to install the codec. I think this is how support for non-free drivers should be handled. But then again, no one asked me :).
This was first published in May 2007