I'm a huge fan of the concept of free and open source software, which is essentially an inexhaustible free resource that people can use in any way that they wish. The idea of software that can be freely customized, modified, and improved, and that can be scrutinized by anybody, and that belongs to everyone, appeals to me greatly. I try to use open source software wherever possible - i.e. when it is available and when it is of reasonably high quality. I try to use the Open Office suite as an alternative to Microsoft's overpriced Office software. I use 7-zip, Filezilla, Firefox, Thunderbird, GAIM, and even GIMP on occasion.
But the biggie in the Open Source pantheon (ok, maybe after Firefox, but that's still only a browser) is surely the Linux operating system as an alternative for Microsoft Windows (or rather, a GNU/Linux system, if we're going to be pedantic). Now, I've used Linux at uni and at work, but I've never used it on a home PC. The problem is that I am simply comfortable with using Windows (and am competent enough to keep it secure - haven't had a trace of malware or viruses in years) and I can do pretty much everything I need to do with it. The average Linux distribution has a lot going for it though, such as being more secure, customizable, and feature rich than Windows, and it has been improving steadily in the area of drivers and available software.
Switching to Linux from Windows has some major drawbacks though - many applications only work on Windows, especially games and multimedia related ones. Things are done differently and need getting used to - the user interface is different, the system management utilities, the command line, the software installation methods. And there are problems - a lot of this stuff isn't easy to set up and configure, and is sometimes lacking in the documentation department. However, Linux distributions have been continuously improving as home desktop systems, and I've wanted to start using it as an alternative for some time, with the hope that one day it would be my primary system with Windows being used as an alternative where necessary. Linux advocates have been going on forever about Linux being a suitable desktop system, and that it's such a piece of cake to install and configure and start using that there's simply no excuse not to. I figured, now is the time to get totally familiar with Linux.
The first major issue comes with distributions - there are so many groups offering their own customized version of Linux, and there is no clear standard. If you use one Linux 'distro', you might not be familiar with another one, which can be quite different. Different distros have their own strengths and weaknesses. They can have different installers, boot loaders, file systems, GUIs, and bundled applications. Interestingly though, one recent distro called Ubuntu has been gaining popularity and appears to have a large support base, so I picked this as a good one to start with.
I spent ages preparing ('be prepared', as the Scouts say) - I figured out how best to use my existing disk partitions, how to configure the partition manager to set things up exactly as I wanted to, basically the whole installation process. I backed up my boot sector in case the installation screwed things up. I backed up all my data. I burnt multiple copies of the CD just in case it failed on me during installation. And after all that, I was raring to go, I was totally psyched about finally, finally installing Linux. This was actually the second time I'd tried this by the way, the first time ended badly because I didn't really do my research properly and started the process on a whim. The installer for that distro had a bug that required downloading a patch and running it during the installation process, and the partition manager was a nightmare to figure out, so I gave up pretty quickly. I figured I wasn't ready for it, and the distro just wasn't user friendly enough.
This time was supposed to be different, because I was ready, and apparently Linux was ready as well. It was time to throw my weight behind open source more fully, time to broaden my operating system horizons, etc... So, I boot off my Ubuntu Linux CD, and it starts loading, and then... UGH! An ugly screen pops up with an error about the graphics system not loading properly. I start again and re-check the CD using a handy utility that is provided, which reports that the CD is A-OK. I try again. Same result. I try the backup disc I burnt. Disk is OK, same result. So basically, I can't even start the INSTALLER for Ubuntu on my machine. I haven't even BEGUN to install it.
I boot back into trusty Windows (I feel dirty just saying that) and look up the error. It seems some other people have had the same problem. The installer is buggy and it has problems with certain graphics cards. There doesn't appear to be a clear way to fix it. Some suggestions are present on message boards, but people who've tried them have reported failure. An alternative exists involving using the command line to install. I don't want to do this, because I'm not familiar enough with it and it'll take time to read up on it, and if I screw up the partitioning part somehow, I can potentially kiss my Windows goodbye. Besides, wasn't it supposed to be easy? I've heard people claim that Linux distros are now easier than Windows to install. As someone who has installed Windows dozens of times on various machines, both at home and at work, I can assure these people that I have never had an instance where the installer failed to run because of the graphics card. In fact, the default VGA drivers in Windows seem to work fine on just about anything.
Now, I'm not knocking Linux here. Ok, well maybe I am, just a bit. I'm just stating what is obvious. Despite what advocates think, Linux just ain't ready for mainstream use. If I can't even get the installer running on my machine, what am I supposed to do? I don't have any bizarre hardware, it's just a bog standard desktop machine. The Windows setup process may be clunky, but at least it's standard - there aren't multiple distros and installers to contend with, each seemingly having its own set of bugs.
I'm not ready to give up just yet. I'm going to try some of the suggestions people have made online. And failing that, I'm going to look into another distro. If Linux were truly ready for the desktop though, I wouldn't have to. The experience has been really, really disappointing. I may just put together another machine on the cheap that I can experiment with to my hearts content, because I know that with some effort and experimentation (and many, many mistakes), a well configured Linux box is something worth having, and something worth learning about. From a professional point of view, it's something that I really need to be familiar with. From a personal (and I suppose, ideological) point of view, it's something I want to be familiar with. I just wish that my second attempted foray into seriously using Linux at home hadn't ended up being such a quick and decisive punch in the face!