Well just to throw an additional spanner in the works, life-long Windows user though still the rampant Microsoft hater that I am, I have finally made the jump from Windows 7 - still a great operating system, to Ubuntu 10.04.
The main deciding reason was after my laptop spat in London, knowing full well that Windows was no longer suitable for my laptop. But the shift to Ubuntu was nothing more than a massive gamble, and it didn't take me long to realise how well of a choice I had made.
So what made me stick with it and not go running back to Windows?
With Windows 7, you have to have the right WDDM drivers for your graphics card, set your screen to a certain resolution, perform a rain dance and on rare occasion it may be necessary to slaughter your first born as a sacrifice to the gods.
Ubuntu 10.04 doesn't need any of that. From the word go, even on an Acer Aspire One the enhanced 'wobbly windows' graphics work with no need for drivers or most of the time a settings change.
Everything's in the browser anyway
But as I said, most things are in the browser and Ubuntu comes pre-installed with Firefox. Chrome works an absolute dream, and most if not all of your plug-ins will be either readily installed or easily available. Flash, Reader, Shockwave... maybe not Silverlight, but Moonlight does offer a suitable alternative.
The biggest gripe about Ubuntu is that it's not Windows and therefore doesn't run Windows applications. Most applications nowadays are rolled out across platforms or are in the cloud but it's not always the greatest substitution for what you are used to.
Install WINE which emulates a Windows environment seamlessly into your Ubuntu desktop and you can run any Windows-specific application as if it was on its native operating system. There's even a huge database of troubleshooting tips for a vast number of popular applications.
Customisability beyond a Windows user's dreams
There are plenty of add-ons and tweaking utilities for Windows, but in Ubuntu you can select almost anything and cause it to be manipulated in one way or another. There is no taskbar per se, but panels that you can add stuff to, change the size, move across the screen, add layers to and personalise to you absolute specific needs.
There are so many options, no two Ubuntu operating systems could ever look alike. You'll feel like a kid in a candy shop.
Ubuntu One is a synchronisation utility which allows you to share a folder in your home drive and upload the contents to the web. You have 2GB to begin with but can expand it to 100GB on the cheap. Depending on your ISP's policies, you can restrict the amount of bandwidth you use when synchronising and you can even hook up your mobile device too.
For me, this is the killer feature for my academic escapades.
It's free, 'nuff said
In my first hand experience, a number of my friends - both techy and non-techy, are moving towards the netbook way of thinking. They're incredibly cheap and often don't come with Windows to keep the price down. The obvious free alternative is Ubuntu, and for all of the aforementioned reasons, it's the ideal operating system for an open-minded student.