I have been a user of Linux on and off for several years now. I have tried many different "flavors" on many different configurations and types of computers. A few days ago, I got a hold of the latest distribution of the free Ubuntu distribution. Ubuntu is touted as Linux for human beings and I couldn't agree more.
For the unitiated, Linux is an operating system, as Windows is an operating system, but so much better. The Linux Kernel was developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. The kernel was designed as a multi-user, multitasking system long before Microsoft was thinking of such things. Linux was eventually licensed under the GNU General Public License which allows the distribution and even sale of possibly modified versions of Linux but requires that all those copies be released under the same license and be accompanied by source code.
Linux currently is developed by thousands of developers around the world, all programming for free. Linux is seen as the primary example the open source model of software development is more effective than others. Most versions can be obtained for free or little cost, compared to the hundreds spent on Windows.
Linux is more secure than Windows, has less of an issue with viri (much less), is faster and is a fraction of the cost. One might ask, why is everyone using Windows these days? I asked myself that several years ago and began exploring Linux. I started with several flavors that I could not get installed on the machine. That wasn't a good thing and I saw why Windows was the popular choice. The installation options, processes and shear volume and complexity of choices presented to the user was astounding. And I am not a beginner by any means.
I was given a copy of Suse Linux by Jeff Dierking and installed that on both my desktop and my laptop. The installation was difficult on both, forcing me to make decisions about partitioning my hard drives (not a small task for the casual user). After getting Linux installed, I found the wireless did not work on either machine. Three days of installing, compiling and testing went by before I managed to get the wireless working on the laptop, but never got it working on the desktop.
I ran into one of the biggest problems the Linux community faces in the issue of mainstream use of the operating system; hardware compatibility. Hardware drivers, the software program that allows your operating system and you to interact, or use, your hardware are generally made by the company that makes the hardware. The company builds and tests this software to assure it works on the most used operating systems, mainly Windows and Mac. Some companies to make drivers for Linux, but mostly it's the volunteer programmers that make these drivers.
The second biggest problem I have found in the use of the successful installation is installing and using programs. Installing programs is not as simple as double clicking on an executable. At the very least, you have to run a script from a command prompt and at the worst you need to compile and make the program, creating a custom application for your operating system. These are both daunting tasks to the average, impatient user who just wants the computer to work.
I also found that the installations differed in their look and feel. I had an installation or two fail, locking me out of the GUI. Both problems were frusturating enough to make me give up on Linux, after several weeks.
However, two days ago, I installed Ubuntu. The setup had two or three prompts, and I had a stable very useful installation. You can download the ISO and burn the cd (which can run the linux operating system without installing it, so you can see how you like it or if there are any hardware incompatibilities), or you can order the disks for a low price. On the hardware I ran the installation on, I can see this flavor moving in the direction of the mainstream operating system, although Jeff had issues getting this flavor to work on his laptop.
Linux still has a long way to go to replace Windows or Mac as a viable choice for the average computer user. I have heard, and been involved in, discussions in which users of Linux argue that Linux is an operating system designed for geeks and therefore should never become a mainstream operating system. I feel Ubuntu is a major leap in the right direction towards mainstream use, but the operating system is still years away from any success with the average user, much to the delight of some long time users.
Considering the changes Microsoft is making in Vista (DRM, locking the kernel down, hardware requirements) it will be interesting to observe the changes in the world of the computer operating system. These and other issues may bring Microsoft's apparent lack of humility to the forefront, and give other operating systems the boost they need.