Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 15th Jan 2006 23:32 UTC
Linux "Linux has made major inroads on servers and in data centers running both open-source and proprietary applications on millions of computers worldwide. We've recently seen the rise of Linux on mobile devices. But the Linux desktop remains elusive. We know it's out there, but it only now seems to be approaching the tipping point."
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Just a note that it seems strange to be talking about over 4 years ago w.r.t. OS releases in your posting. Windows XP was released on 25th October 2001, just 3 days after Red Hat 7.2 came out.

Zoom forward 4 years to now and you'll see that all the free Red Hat releases are no longer supported (and barely updated - the Fedora Legacy project has Red Hat 7.3 and 9 on terminal life support [don't ask me why they kept 7.3 going and stopped 8 - bizarre!], but don't be surprised to see those put to rest soon too).

So you have to compare either a commercial RHEL release (currently version 4), a free clone (e.g. CentOS 4) or one of the Fedora Core releases (also currently version 4) against XP. Things have moved on a little bit with those releases and I do run them day-to-day myself, but Fedora Core requires quite a bit of techy tweaking to get it how I like it on the desktop (particularly multimedia support, adjust the GNOME desktop, cutting down services run, ATI or Nvidia 3D card support, NTFS support in the kernel and Java installation [gcj won't cut it fully until Fedora Core 5]) and hence I probably wouldn't recommend it to a complete Linux newbie.

Something like Linspire or Xandros might be more suitable for novice users coming over from Windows - I even found that OpenSuSE works quite nicely as a desktop OS if you're not willing to spend any money. The key areas here:

* Auto-detect as much as possible - nothing worse that finding your networking, sound, printer etc. won't work. Linux tends to be good in most areas now, except wireless networking. Offer up an ndiswrapper third-party solution if a native driver isn't available for wireless.

* Re-iterating the previous point, if the distro has a "free-only" policy, make it easy to add non-free software from 3rd parties (e.g. video/audio codecs, wireless drivers, DVD playing software).

* Provide as much support for Windows applications, file formats and filing systems as possible. This would include a properly set up WINE, NTFS support, native Linux apps that can handle Windows file formats (Open Office and the like), conversion of popular application preferences over to native Linux apps (so not just the data needs to be brought over, but also the settings).
Don't forget to allow conversion the other way as well, just in case users want to go back to Windows for a while and maybe return later.

* Include some good open source games, preferably including some good 3D ones in there. Surprisingly, although Fedora Core 4 comes with a few dozen games, not one of them is 3D at all! Even if this means including demos of a few of the best commercial Linux games, if there's space on the DVD version of the distro, put them in.

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