The release of Windows Vista has made me switch one of my computers to Linux. As little as a year ago, this may not have been an entirely practical solution, but GNU/Linux has recently begun to take leaps and bounds toward becoming a viable alternative. I'm currently running Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft). I'm using AbiWord, and open source word processor, to type this up before posting it.
The thing is, Linux is not just an operating system; It's an attitude. I don't mean like those mocha-sipping photoshopping Mac heads (Though Leopard looks sweet... but I digress). I mean that it's a philosophy. There are two schools of thought on the matter and they tend to separate themselves via the terms "Free" and "Open Source".
I'm really not the best person to summarize this for you. If you want an educated voice on the subject, I recommend going over to www.linuxreality.com and downloading the first episode of that podcast. Chess does an excellent job of informing without jumping on a soap box and going off on tangents... which I invariably would do.
It's not just your OS, though. It's consumer electronics in general. The iPod, The Xoon. Tons of things. I'll give you an example. The Linksys WRT54G is an 802.11g wireless router. According to the specs, it can transmit five-hundred feet line of sight. It's just a regular router. Well, some folks in the open-source community discovered that the firmware (the software inside of the router itself that tells the hardware how to function) was using a linux kernel (meaning it was using the same OS "brain" that all linux distributions use). There are legal issues here that I won't go into, but it basically meant this. Linksys legally HAD to release their source code. Within a month or so, there were open source firmware flashes available for the unit that increased its range by 100%, and added VoIP and VPN to the router. Essentially, it turned a $60 router into a $600 router. The hardware was always capable of this, but because Linksys didn't want you to be able to do this, you couldn't... until they flubbed up. This is true of a lot of things.
I'm doing a lot of self-study with these things. Think about what a pivotal role these things play in our daily lives. Think about what that means to the person who truly understands how those things work, and how to manipulate their functionality.