I am a Windows guy and have been for over 15 years. You could even call me a power user considering I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and I also work as one. So what would posses me to try out Ubuntu Linux 11.04? Well I have an old Sony Vaio laptop that just won't die and Windows XP is reaching end of life. I figure it's time to get rid of my last Windows XP machine and Ubuntu Linux is the best way to do it. If you're not familiar with Linux then don't be afraid, Ubuntu Linux is great for beginners.
The great part about Ubuntu is that you can safely try it without damaging your current Windows machine. Just head over to Ubuntu's website and download the .iso image. After burning the .iso to a DVD or installing it on a USB stick, you could run the entire OS from it. This is a great way to see if it loads up properly and it also gives you an easy exit strategy if you hate it. If you wanted to get fancy, you could even set up a dual boot of Windows and Linux. It isn't that difficult but it requires a little proficiency in computers before you go this route.
For me, I decided to blow out the entire machine and install Ubuntu. I don't keep any files on that old laptop anyway as I only use it for the internet. After following some very easy step by step instructions, Ubuntu Linux installed flawlessly. I was a little worried that I would be missing a driver (specifically the wireless) since I haven't the slightest clue on how to install one, but everything worked out fine.
The Control Center (the Windows Control Panel equivalent) is where you will find all of your system settings. The first thing you probably want to do is install the OS Updates. This is done by using the Update Manager or my preferred method, the Synaptic Package Manager. You could also set up a screen saver, change the wallpaper, configure your power management settings and everything else you would normally do in an OS. They also included a service called Ubuntu One which offers you cloud storage which could be used to sync with one of your Windows computers. But if you already keep your files on SkyDrive, Google Docs or any of the similar cloud services, then you have nothing to worry about. Although I will say after testing it out for a little while, Ubuntu One is pretty good.
Installing applications in Linux isn't as difficult as you would think. This is done by using the Software Center, or the Synaptic Package Manager, and searching for the software you need. The concept isn't any more complicated than downloading an app to your smart phone. If you really want to, you can do things the hard way by downloading the setup files and use terminal commands to set up your application, but you don't need to bother. The Software Center truly has everything you need. The best part is, since everything is open source, almost every single app is free. But chances are you may not even need to install anything since Ubuntu already comes packaged with everything you need. In fact, the only additional application I actually installed is the Chromium Browser.
I've been using Ubuntu 11.04 for a few weeks now and I haven't come across any problems. I have even started testing it out in an enterprise Windows environment. So far it's going great and I'm happy to resurrect my old laptop. If you still have a machine running Windows XP, you should give Ubuntu Linux a shot. Even if you don't become converted to a full time Linux user, you don't have to worry about your OS being out of date or out of patches in a few years.