Ubuntu has had an explicit goal for several cycles now to achieve flicker-free booting: smooth graphical boot all the way through from bootloader to the desktop, with no messy modeswitches or cuts between text and graphics mode on the console. This is no small task, to be sure; even getting flicker-free transitions between plymouth and X for the KMS-capable video cards was a handful for 10.04 LTS.
So I was suitably impressed when in the course of testing for the upcoming Ubuntu 11.10 release I found that on a laptop with the nouveau driver, we had achieved 100% flicker-free boot all the way from grub to X. And then I was astonished to find the grub-kernel transition was flicker-free when using the binary nvidia driver too!
This is in large part thanks to Colin Watson's work upstream implementing VBE support in GRUB2, and Andy Whitcroft's adding proper support for a vesafb fallback when no KMS video driver is found. The architecture of how this all hangs together is now documented in the Ubuntu wiki.
The irony is that, while nouveau gives a perfect flicker-free boot, and the nvidia binary drivers give a boot with just one modeswitch, both of my Intel systems show two modeswitches on boot - one between grub and the kernel, another between the kernel and X. Something to work on cleaning up next month, I think...