Notwithstanding its high points, Linux is not for everyone. You should approach your decision to use Linux as you'd approach any decision, by evaluating the pros and cons. Here are several reasons to run Linux:
You want a stable and reliable computing platform. No popular operating system is more stable and reliable than Linux. If you're tired of crashes and hangs and the lost time and data they entail, you're a candidate for Linux.
You want a high-performance computing platform. Linux can coax blazingly fast performance out of hardware below the minimum required to load and run other popular operating systems. And with ample memory and a fast CPU, Linux goes toe-to-toe with anything Microsoft or other vendors offer. If speed is your thing, Linux is your hot rod.
You need a low-cost or free operating system. If you're on a budget or if you need to set up many systems, the low cost of Linux will let you reserve your hard-earned capital for hardware or other resources. Linux is the best operating system value on the planet.
You're a heavy network or Internet user. If you use networks, especially the Internet, Linux's advanced support for TCP/IP may light up your life. Linux makes it easy to construct firewalls that protect your system against hackers or routers that let several computers share a single network connection.
You want to learn Unix or TCP/IP networking. The best way?perhaps the only way?to learn more about Unix or TCP/IP networking (or computers generally) is through hands-on experience. Whether you're interested in such experience owing to personal curiosity or career ambition (system administrators are often handsomely paid), Linux affords you the opportunity to gain such experience at low cost, without leaving the comfort of your home.
You seek an alternative to Microsoft's vision of computing's future. If you're tired of marching to the relentless drumbeat of the Redmond juggernaut, Linux offers a viable way to cut the umbilical cord and set about creating a new, open source computing destiny for yourself and others.
You want to have fun. Hopefully, you've discovered that one of the best reasons for doing anything is that it's fun. Many Linux users report that they've never had so much fun with a computer. There's no better reason for running Linux than that.
To be frank, some folks shouldn't run Linux. If one or more of the following are true of you, you should run Linux only if you have a good friend who's knowledgeable about Linux, available by phone at odd hours, and works cheap:
You're scared of computers. If you're scared of computers, you should spend more time working with Windows 2000/XP or Mac OS X before venturing into the Linux world. Linux may indeed be right for you, but it's not right just yet.
You don't like, or don't have the time and inclination, to tinker and learn. Setting up and running Linux will require you to learn new concepts and skills. None of these is especially difficult, but unless you're enthusiastic about learning and playing around, setting up and running Linux will stress you out. Instead, you should stick with the familiar.
You're married to certain Windows applications. You can run some Windows applications under Linux's WINE emulation, but this isn't true of every Windows application. Before putting your toe in the Linux waters, you should obtain up-to-date information on the status of WINE emulation of your favorite Windows applications (see http://www.winehq.com). Alternatively, you can purchase the commercial products VMware (see http://www.vmware.com), Win4Lin (see http://www.netraverse.com), or CrossOver Office (http://www.codeweavers.com) that enable you to run Windows applications or Windows itself under Linux.
Rather than convert your desktop system to run Linux, you may prefer to install Linux on a second system or to set up your computer as a dual-boot system, running both Windows and Linux on separate partitions of a single hard drive. That way, you have your choice of running your favorite Windows applications or Linux whenever you desire.
On the other hand, the quality of Linux applications continues to improve. Many Linux users are quite satisfied with Linux applications and desktop suites such as OpenOffice.org, which provides word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs. So, unless your marriage to Windows applications includes a formal vow, you may want to reconsider your marital status.
You're addicted to 3D gaming. 3D gaming is a resource-intensive form of computing. To provide the best possible gaming experience, designers of 3D games strive to take full benefit of advanced capabilities of sophisticated graphics adapters. However, manufacturers of graphic adapters do not always provide Linux-compatible drivers. And, even if a Linux-compatible driver is available for your graphics adapter, it may not fully support the adapter's capabilities. Moreover, relatively few game publishers release Linux versions of their games. So, if you're a 3D game aficionado, you'll likely prefer to keep one foot in the Windows world. But, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't run Linux; only that you probably shouldn't run only Linux.
Still game? Excellent! Please proceed to Chapter 2 and prepare to install Linux.