Linux is turning up in everything from netbooks to Dell PCs, but is it actually fit to replace Windows? Stuart Turton spends a week with Linux to find out.
It's cards on the table time. I'm a Windows man. I started with Windows 3.11 and DOS, migrated to Windows 95, suffered through 98 and ME and revelled in Windows XP. In following the winding Windows road I'm joined by millions of others who'd shudder at using anything other than Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system.
But recently Linux has finally begun to offer itself as a serious alternative. Those cheap netbooks that have undoubtedly become the hot technology of the year routinely ship with Linux, while public demand means that Dell offers Ubuntu as an alternative operating system on an ever-expanding range of its PCs.
Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company that sponsors Ubuntu development, believes the next release will be the one to finally prick the public consciousness, and has begun hiring people to make sure that when it hits the mainstream, Ubuntu is pretty enough to hold the attention of those accustomed to the glamour of OS X and Vista.
Their confidence is infectious, so I decided to take the plunge. I handed my life over to Linux for seven days to see how well we rub along.
In practice that meant installing two versions of Linux - one for the office and one for home - and recording every success, failure, thrill and frustration along the way. Here's my diary of my week of life without Windows.
I'm about to hand my life over to Linux, but unlike almost everything else in that life, I'm actually going to prepare for this. My first decision is which distro to choose. Linux comes in multiple flavours, all with their own oddities, charms and utterly brilliant names.
Forget Windows and Mac OS blah, how about Ubuntu, Fedora, Xandros, Mint and Mandriva? I'm going with Ubuntu 9.04 for home because it's Dell's distro of choice, and Fedora 11 for work because it's free - two factors marking them out as frontrunners, should this Linux revolution ever occur.
Ubuntu immediately justifies its selection thanks to the Wubi installer, which allows you to install it through Windows like any other application. It'll then take care of the fiddly bits such as partitions and setting up a dual-boot system, meaning that 15 minutes after inserting the disc I'm staring at my new Ubuntu desktop.
And blimey, it's ugly. I haven't seen that much brown since I peered into my grandfather's wardrobe, and the menu bars are the wrong side of 1995. Given all the talk about Vista being bloated, I expected Linux to be faster than Usain Bolt chasing the last bus home, but boot times seem roughly similar and it isn't much quicker opening programs either.
Otherwise, I'm far more impressed. A quick root through the wonderfully simple menus reveals a great selection of preinstalled software, including Firefox 3 and OpenOffice. Alongside the preinstalled applications, the add/remove utility points me in the direction of dozens of other free packages on the Internet, all tried and tested with Ubuntu, which is reassuring.
My first concern is to start listening to my MP3 music collection and for this I turn to Rhythmbox, which has clearly been... ahem... inspired by iTunes. Anybody familiar with Apple's baby will no doubt feel right at home but I'm a Media Player 11 man, and Rhythmbox's sparseness leaves me cold.
Still, it recognises all my music and knows what to do with my MP3 player. A couple of hours after installation and I already feel right at home with Ubuntu.
Be sure to check out Day 2 of Stuart Turtons experiences with Linux, coming soon....
Also see our series on the Free Linux Apps You Can't Do Without