over the past few years i can proudly say that i have tried quite a few linux distribution (or distros for short) and i find that they are generally more sophisticated than windows. also nothing beats something which is free and infinitely configurable. virus and adwares? what are those?
if you talk to any diehard windows users about linux the first thing they think about is an ugly text-based interface where obscure commmand lines are typed in at prompt signs. that may have been true 10 years ago but now some linux distros trump even mac os x in the looks department. everything can be done by pointing and clicking on beautiful graphical interfaces. throw in windows managers like beryl or compiz and you end up with a hippie’s lysergic-laced wet dream.
having said that i can understand why some people run screaming away from it after a few days of tinkering. and there lies the crux of the matter. you have to be a great tinkerer. you must relish spending hours setting up restricted formats like mp3s and videos files to get everything the way you like it. be prepared to type or cut ‘n paste obscure text commands into the terminal. there are tons of howtos, wiki and forums to wade through on the web for each distro. if you just want things to work right out of the box or if you have a dateline to meet, you are best off sticking with windows or better still mac os x but once in the while you just have to take that leap of faith. that last bit is an euphemism for having more time than what is considered normal by the general public.
from the get go you are expected to install the os on your own. how many people actually do that with windows? discounting all the geeks, this is virtually unheard of. there are partitions to be created or formatted. you have to choose between grub and lilo bootloaders (little scripts that are installed on the very first bit of your hard drive so that the os can be booted into on startup). the jargon used during this process may be daunting at first but most of the time it is pretty self explanatory. over the years the programmers have simplified the process even more with the aim that one day even your grandmother can install the os.
after rebooting into your brand new spanking desktop you will find that you are pretty crippled as far as multimedia is concerned. there is a valid reason for this. mp3, avi, mpg, wmv etc. are all proprietary formats and in order to avoid copyright issues they are turned off by default. this does not mean that they will not work in linux. you just have to sweat for it. this is the first crossroad that will differentiate the geeks from the non-geeks. the latter will just throw their arms into the air, delete the linux partition and crawl back to bill gates who will mock you and throw more security holes at you for daring to question his authority.
the geek will immediately fire up firefox and google up the web forums for their particular distro and after a few quick questions, be on their way to tricking out their os. before long you will have a singing and dancing desktop with some cool eyecandy (ie beryl or compiz windows manager) thrown in for good measure.
a common question that windows users ask me is about compatible software applications. for every windows program, there is a 99% chance that it has a linux equivalent. the caveat is that the software is usually organised into repositories, which as the name suggests, are directories of applications or in unix-speak ‘packages’. the directories are hosted on servers all over the world and in order to get to them, most distros come with an inbuilt package manager. these are used to not only download packages from the servers but also to install them.
the linux community is born out of a spirit of sharing. right from the programmers to the end-users, every shred of knowledge and knowhow is shared with no fiscal aspirations whatsoever. any question posed in the forums are usually guaranteed a quick and accurate reponse. the community has only one aim and that is ensure that linux is used and enjoyed by as big a global population as possible. there are no leaders or followers. as long as you have something meaningful to contribute to the linux world, the sky’s the limit. already whispers and predictions abound that 2007 may be the year that linux finally breaks through and give microsoft a run for its money. the beauty of this is that for linux there is no money involved!