While Linux has been around for a very long time, it has been ignored for mainstream desktop use for most of its existence. However, two little words are being written more and more in the technology press: "and Linux." Two years ago, no one even bothered to check whether or not products would work with the free operating system, but now it's becoming compulsory to divulge Linux compatibility.
Critics and Windows fanboys say that switching to Linux will bring the same limitations as switching to Mac will, thus putting the user in a sandbox of limited options, while Windows works with a near limitless range of hardware and software. Linux is not like a Mac operating system. In fact, Linux will run on a wider range of hardware than even Windows.
As far as the software goes, free alternatives to most mission-critical applications for Ubuntu are just a download away. As an operating system, Linux is completely customizable, from the kernel to the GUI and beyond, which is not something that can be said about Windows.
The question is not “can Linux run it?” That has never been the question with regard to Linux. Instead, you can make it do just about anything that you want it to do. The more pointed question is: “just how much of a hassle is this going to be?” Being a do-it-yourselfer, I don't mind the challenge. Spending the hours needed to properly overclock a rig only to fill your system tray with CPU-draining security programs and a perpetually fragmenting file system is just plain absurd to me. Scouring reviews and feverishly price-checking the best components possible for the custom system of your dreams only to install a stock operating system seems self-defeating.
Competition drives innovation and there is no lack of competition in the Linux sphere. Today, I use Ubuntu because today Ubuntu is king. But tomorrow is a new day and Novell's OpenSUSE along with Red Hat's Fedora are looking to become usurpers to (or re-claimers of) the throne.
Then there are Dell and HP, which pre-install their own custom variants of Ubuntu in new systems. Intel developed the Moblin distribution and turned it over to the Linux Foundation earlier this month. Google's Linux-based Android operating system is making its way from mobile phones to netbooks. Is the desktop far behind? There are even more free options beyond Linux. BSD has been around for a long time, while Sun Microsystems offers the OpenSolaris operating system. The OpenOffice office suite and Virtual Box virtual machine are all free.
Today, we have more quality choices of operating systems than ever before, and choices are always a good thing. Choice inherently means that there are differences, and with computers, that usually leads to specialization. If you need to build a rig on the cheap or just like to do-it-yourself, then Linux is for you, and today the Ubuntu distribution is where to start. If you are a hardcore PC gamer, I'm afraid that due to DirectX 10, you're stuck with Vista (or waiting for Windows 7) for the time being. If you need your hand held, then go buy a Mac.