When I first started using computers I was an Apple man. I instantly fell in love with the Apple ][ our school had in the library, and began dabbling in BASIC. Staying true to to my relationship, I maintained my fascination with Apples right through the Macintosh period of my life. All the while ignoring that PCs existed. When my Dad bought his first 486 with Windows 3.1 for his business my mind opened. This machine could do a lot of cool things... And it had a command line (DOS) which brought me back to the Apple ][ days I had not realized that I missed. From that point on I had been converted as there was definitely more under the hood of a PC than the Macs, and oh, did I love to tinker.
I continued using Windows faithfully through my sophomore year of college when I had yet another awakening. A friend of mine had managed to get an early 1.x Linux kernel working on their machine. Now *this* was cool I though to myself. I stayed on course with Windows however as I could get my UNIX fix from the Ultrix machines on campus and didn't really see the need for another OS in my life.
Sometime later that year a few of my friends had repartitioned their hard drives and loaded up Linux. Now its around the Junior year of computer science that things start getting hairy, and that's when I started feeling the need for a programming environment in my dorm instead of the lab. Suddenly I had a "killer app" that justified an OS adoption. That killer app turned out to be PPP.
From that point in ~1993 on I fell deeper into my Linux relationship each day. There was literally something new to discover each day (and 10 year slater this hasn't changed at all!). It took me, and possibly Linux as well, another 2 years to become monogomous. My Linux partition was full, and the Windows partition was home only to a few remaining games which I was able to bid farewell without significant remourse.
For 10 years I remained faithful to Linux. I used it for everything, and did so happily until now. I volunteer as a system architect for the local Boy Scouts of America council where two Linux servers are gainfully employed in the service of ~ 30 Windows 2000 workstations. My dream is to replace their Windows apps with LAMP based web apps once step at a time. First step is to convert their Access apps to hit PostGreSQL via ODBC drivers and replace the local tables.
After fighting it for some time I finally gave in and repartitioned my home workstation's drives. The office had retired a machine and freed up a Win2k license for me so I could begin reaquainting myself with my old friend. In some ways it was like going home - so much was familiar to the Win95 I last knew - yet so much had changed.
My Linux environment was GNOME. Without getting into a flame war I will say that I feel that KDE feels too much like a carnival to me - too many flashing lights. GNOME feels mostly unobtrusive, and that's what it's all about for me.
My first eye opener came during the OS loading. I have a KT400 chipset and a new Radeon vid card, so it's not shocking that the Win2k CDs didnt' recognize everything. The surprise was that without additional drivers the OS could only function in 800x600 with 16 colors. But before I could clue in the OS I needed to get my AGP recognized. In the end, before my OS could make use of all my hardware I needed to not only load my OS, but 5 different driver disks. Most of these drivers wanted to reboot after loading.
This is in contrast to my experience with RH Linux (since the first RH release...). With RH I have every driver I need to run my system optimally when the OS comes up. The only thing I'm missing is a working sensors installation for my ASUS board, but I'll overlook that.
Next, I wanted to see how the apps had changed. Amazingly, there was almost nothing of use on the system... The OS, and a few applets like Wordpad were there. Again, in contrast to Linux where you have almost every conceivable application on the system when it loads. Exploring was a little boring.
What I *did* notice was that I'm no longer religiously aggressive towards my desktop environment. I used to worship at the temple of WindowMaker regularly, and during those years I grew to hate the Windows UI. Perhaps using GNOME had helped with the transition. Whatever the reason I found that it didn't feel abrasive to me.
I loaded up a few apps... Putty for an SSH client, OpenOffice (because all my docs are in that format), and Mozilla. Now it was beginning to feel like home. In fact, there wasn't a lot of difference. Putty feels just like an Xterm, except I had grown fond of Gnome-terminal's tabs, and wished I could find them here. OO and Moz really dont' behave with any difference, so there was no loss here.
Eventually I had loaded up all of my disks with things like GPS software, digital camera software, my astronomy program, etc. At the end of that CD swapping freenzy I had another impression... Linux still hasn't figured out how to make software installs easy. Understand that I'm somewhat geeky, and have been with UNIX for a long time now, so it's not that I can't get software installed. It's more that I don't want to blow time installing software, or locating that missing library that make complains about. It was nice to click a few buttons and have something that works. I wish the configuration and tweaking in Windows was as accessible as it is in Linux - no doubt I'm not in sync with that design. But Linux could gain a lot of users if it were as easy to get going as Windows.
Even with RPM it often requires a lot of tweaking in the Linux world. A prime example is the UPS monitor I've messed with. I have a USB HID interface to my UPS. To get rolling I have to weed through drivers, READMEs, etc. What I *want* is a nice simple probe so I don't need to think about it. I want to spend my time hacking, not getting my UPS recognized.
Other than the convenience of having access to the platform most software is written for again, I still have to say I prefer Linux. It looks better, runs faster, and does more. But I have to say that I have a new confidence in Linux' ability to break into the desktop space with projects like Sun's MadHatter. It's already surpassed Windows usability, and aesthetics - now its just about finding the killer app. Hopefully in the meantime Linux can make some leaps and bounds in the "final polishing" of its apps and give RPM some steroids to make installations more convenient. Until then, I'll keep testing the waters and playing both sides of the fence.