Ever since Linux made its mass-market debut, would-be adopters have wondered about the practicality of switching from Windows: can it really colonise the desktop, or will Linux forever remain a server-side operating system for die-hard technophiles? Early attempts at a consumer Linux distribution (remember Corel Linux?) withered on the vine, leaving the future rather bleak for this low-cost alternative OS.
Early Linux versions were burdened with an installation routine that was far too technical for the vast majority of Windows users, and getting the X Window graphical user interface up and running often took both time and courage. Even when everything was working, day-to-day Linux applications were much harder to use than their Windows equivalents –- just reading text on-screen was difficult, thanks to X Windows’ spindly fonts.
Things have changed. Two of the year's most user-friendly Linux distributions -- SuSE Linux 8.1 and Red Hat Linux 8.0 -- have closed the gap between Windows and Linux. For those with at least a few years of PC experience, it's now feasible to switch from Windows to Linux or use both – either in a dual-boot environment or on separate systems. So which of these alternatives should you choose? Read on.