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A Letter from Linuxland -- Part 1

In which 20 years of hurt finally push Rupert over the top, and he slips quietly away from Camp Microsoft to start a new life in a new country

There are a million reasons to install Linux, and as many not to bother. The days when I actually enjoyed making a computer work through sheer force of will have gone: there's too much to do with the things these days to worry about making it happen. If you play a lot of games, then Linux isn't an option, but if you spend your days whooping through the Internet like a gibbon in the rainforest canopy, then open source will keep you happy. If like me you do a little of a lot of things, then going free is an intriguing idea that may be more trouble than its worth. You know where you are with Windows, even if it's not exactly where you want to be today. It's good enough.

Until now. I don't know exactly what bit of Microsoft corporate madness finally provoked the allergic reaction that swelled my anger gland. It could have been Windows Media Player offering to 'protect' my content with a smarmy message that smelled as bad as 'Crusher' Nobbs offering to 'protect' a pub. It might have been Windows Genuine Advantage slithering its way into my PC and lobbing my personal information back to Microsoft's HQ without telling me. It might have been waiting two minutes for my computer to start while a large and massively stupid lump of antivirus software declared itself the most important being in my world. Or it might have been another stonkingly arrogant statement from Steve Ballmer -- you know, the man who's proud that he bans his kids from owning iPods and using Google. There are many, many candidates for the last straw in the bale on this camel's back.

Whatever it was, it was suddenly too much. I realised fully what I've actually known for 20 years -- I wanted to use my computer on my terms. I wanted to be part of a community, not some battery hen kept in my own ordure and fed god knows what to lay golden licensing fees. I didn't want to be part of Microsoft's world, not even one where someone else pays for my software. I wanted to have fun. I wanted out.

There are two options for the escapee -- Macintosh and Linux. I like the Mac. OS X is an addictive shiny thing, the hardware is toothsome and if you can afford to join its gated enclave the lawns are well-mown, the security guys courteous and your fellow inmates stylish and bright. But I can't afford it. Truth to tell, I get a little scared by the evangelical chaps on the corner.

Which leaves Linux. If Microsoft is a battery farm and Apple a slightly creepy Californian cult HQ, Linux is Glastonbury. You can turn up in an old jalopy or a Roller, and you'll be welcome. There are a thousand things going on and all you need to do is sit down and take part. It's colourful, chaotic and works by no known rules. But work it does. All you have to do is say yes.

As to which Linux, well, the one that's getting all the rave reviews is Ubuntu. It couldn't be easier to try: download a live CD image from the Web or by BitTorrent, burn it, reboot and play.

So that's what I did. After 20 years of Microsoft, I threw out Windows at home and, more nervously, at work. I've still got Windows on some machines, but not those I use for my digital life. And I've got one laptop running a Vista beta. That'll make for some interesting comparisons.

Next instalment, I'll tell you what happened when I pressed Control, Alt and Delete for the last time on Bill and the CD light came on for the penguin. -Rupert Goodwins