Is it time to give Linux another look?

With recent stories highlighting Windows 8’s comparative lack of sales success it's understandable that people start to think about other operating systems. Assuming you don’t want to throw away your old hardware and sell your soul to Apple then the obvious alternative has always been Linux.

The International Space Station likes it, yet Linux still has only a tiny share of the desktop market -- 1.2 percent as of April 2013 according to analytics company Net Applications.

Like most people who've spent their working lives around computers I've flirted with various flavors of Linux from time to time. Suse, Debian, Linspire, Ubuntu, Mint, Puppy, been there, tried those, resisted buying the T-shirts. Each time I've experienced the minor problems that take hours of trawling obscure, geeky forums to solve the odd little quirks that eventually drive me back to the comfort of Windows.

But Linux continues to make steady improvements. The latest Ubuntu for example has a sleek interface with hints of Android. And most distros now have an installation process that doesn't require you to have an in-depth knowledge of command line switches and another system on standby to look up problems.

The underlying code behind the various distros is still evolving too. Linus Torvalds'  announcement at the weekend of the rc-1 version of the Linux 3.10 kernel promises some major improvements. Better support for 64-bit ARM chips, SSDs and AMD power management along with improved sound drivers being just some of the highlights. A final version of 3.10 is expected around June or July.

All of which might have you thinking about giving Linux another go. In the past the major reasons for not doing so have been down to software. That’s no longer an excuse for plain vanilla tasks. The open source office suites like LibreOffice are now just as good as their Microsoft counterpart. If you run some specialist software that’s only available for Windows you still have more of a problem. You could use Wine but emulators are never quite the same, are they?

The other thing that puts many people off is the sheer number of different Linux flavors. What works in Windows' favor is its ubiquity. There are minor variations between Home and Professional versions but mostly Windows is Windows, it’s familiar and even with the love it or hate it Windows 8 the furniture hasn't moved around too much between versions. More importantly it just installs and works nearly all the time. Until you've tried out some alternatives you don’t realize what an impressive feat this is.

So, back to the original question, is it time to give Linux another look? The answer is really down to how you use it. For day-to-day web surfing, creating documents and so on there’s no reason why you should find Linux any harder to use than Windows. The problem comes if you want to run some slightly obscure hardware or software or if you need to look for support. That’s when the average user is still likely to get out of their depth. That’s the difference that a massive corporation and a huge user base makes. The day when we all run Linux desktops might be coming, but it's a long way off yet.

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