This post is brought to you by the fact that I've been running a LiveCD version of the latest version of Ubuntu Linux on my home computer for the past week since my hard drive failed (which was running Windows XP). I did it because I wanted to be back up and running quickly, without having to replace the hard drive and reinstall Windows. A simple reboot with Ubuntu in the CD drive and I was back up and running. Most reading material is web based, and I use the built-in remote desktop application to access email on my work PC, so the only thing I've really lost is gaming, which I haven't had the time to do lately anyways. And besides, I have access to Desktop Tower Defense, so what gaming have I lost really?
And you know what? Ubuntu works. It works well. So much so that after putting a new hard drive in my home PC, I'm installing Ubuntu on it. I suppose I will set up a dual-boot system, or experiment with virtualization or a WINE Windows emulation system, but for the moment I am happy and established and most importantly, up and running, with a free OS that comes off of a CD.
My background with free OSes started a while ago, when I was a student employee at the Library. A fellow student employee who was overqualified for the job installed NetBSD on our then kick-ass Pentium 60 machine in the student/storeroom down in the subbasement of the Library. It offered two X window managers: gwm or twm; both were not ready for primetime. Things have come a long way since then (circa, uh, don't judge me on this, 1995).
I've been running Ubuntu as a server for testing purposes at work for over a year; the rough edges back then have been smoothed out (for instance, multi-CPU systems required a little extra to install, as well as setting screen resolution correctly); these things seem to have been correctly thought about in the latest version (7.10). At work I could access Windows file shares via Samba; I could offer up whatever I needed to via apache (http). But since I am a Windows System Administrator, the work portion of what I do was offered up via Windows 2003 Server and IIS 6. I have nothing really against Windows 2003--it's a fine OS, but IIS was up until 6.0 the crappiest web server around. It's a lot better now, but Apache works just as well, and I'm happy running both, although for me Apache is a test environment while work items run in IIS (because the vendor made it that way).
What really got me was the situation I was in: I had a bad hard drive, and I needed access to the web and my machine at work. The easiest solution was a CD with Ubuntu on it.
I think that Linux has arrived at the casual desktop, and it really works, and most hardware now works with it. I hope it's moved out of the enthusiast market and into the real world, where people don't necessary have the technical skills to replace the kernel or compile a program. I hope that people get fed up with infected and trojaned machines, and the monoculture of Windows gets diluted a bit with a more dynamic and robust computing environment. That's not to say I'm against Windows--after all, it gives me a paying job; but I like that I can recover from a hard drive failure with one CD and one reboot.