Farhad Manjoo has a pretty good column up at Slate.com on the advantages and disadvantages of Ubuntu, probably the most user-friendly flavor of the Open Source operating system Linux.
My little Eee PC has Ubuntu installed on it; this was my primary computer for the seven or so weeks I was in Italy last summer. On balance, I’d say it was a good experience, and whenever I have occasion to use the little notebook these days (usually when I’m giving a slideshow to one of my classes), it’s with a certain nostalgia and affection.
Hey! I feel like saying. Do you remember that time I was updating your software on battery power, and your power ran out, and your OpenOffice was more-or-less borked, but I figured out how to fix it by going in and removing the damaged files with the command line? Good times, eh? Remember that?
It doesn’t; it’s not a sentimental machine. But I remember, and I think it illustrates the best and worst things about Ubuntu. The Mac OS or Windows (in any iteration) may have various disdvantages, but they’re not very breakable. Linux is different. An unskilled user can easily destroy or damage essential parts of the software. In fact, this is rather likely, as Linux requires more tinkering by the user than proprietary operating systems.
On the other hand, there’s a huge community of extremely helpful Linux users online; pretty much every question you might have has been asked and answered on some Ubuntu forum somewhere. If not, you can ask it, with confidence that you’ll get some sort of civil and helpful answer. I never would have figured out how to repair the damage I’d done to my computer without the help of the Ubuntu forums. The patience, dedication and knowledge of the Open Source community is a tremendous resource.
And, if you go Open Source, you’ll need that resource. That’s the bottom line: most Open Source software just isn’t as user-friendly as its proprietary equivalent. It’s for people who like to pop the hood and tinker with the engine. That’s not usually me nor, I suspect, most computer-users, so I don’t expect any version of Linux to hit the big time especially soon.