I'm not convinced that "distributed version control" is such a killer feature though, as at *some* point you still need to pull all your changes together to make a release.
The keyword here being some point
. Distributed means that people can still make commits, even if the central server is down, or if they're working on a train or a rocket.
Working in separate cloned copies looks just like working in branches to me.
Yeah, CVS is great at branching. Unfortunally, it's not so great at merging
. It used to be that creating a branch was a milestone: you'd release version 1.1, and branched of 188.8.131.52 as a maintenance branch. With more modern version control systems, branching is what people do all the time, since merging is trivial.