Every OS comes with some great ideas, and just like software, I've always wondered: why not combine the best of each to make a super OS? Ah well, I'm sure there's a simple answer, like "because." But here are some good ideas I've seen so far in GNU/Linux.
(01) Live CDs/DVDs.
Just boot straight from the CD to test GNU/Linux in any given distribution. If you don't like it, exit, and remove the disc. You're back to Windows, no harm, no foul.
(02) Automatic partitioning.
If you do decide to install the distribution, it will automatically partition your drive to cooperate with Windows. While this is not unique to GNU/Linux, the way it's done is pretty stupid-proof, and guys like me; that is, guys who are scared to wreck their existing systems, need this kind of help since it's one less thing I have to learn from the start. I haven't tested every distribution, but most all of them provide this option in a clear manner during setup.
(03) "Package Managers" or software installation managers.
There are several different ones depending on your taste, but these will list all the applications known to work with your chosen distribution. Every time you boot, it updates every piece of software on your system from the package manager. No worry, no conflicts, no fuss. You don't have to mess with .exe or .msi files, and the manager even cleans up installation debris after it's done. Each Linux distribution comes with hundreds and possibly thousands of application programs included. This alone can save you thousands of dollars for each desktop system you configure. For the more technically inclined, development tools, such as compilers for the C, C++, Ada, Fortran, Pascal and other languages, are included as well as Perl, PHP, and Python interpreters. Editors and versioning tools also are included in this category. Whether you are looking for Instant Messaging clients, backup tools or Web site development packages, they likely are all included within your base Linux distribution.
(04) No rebooting upon updates.
One of the most frustrating things about installing or upgrading programs on certain operating systems is the constant need to have to reboot. This is especially true with drivers or system files. The only thing that requires a reboot is if you upgrade the kernel itself, which incidently, is named "Linux." How is this possible? When you open a file, the kernel follows the link, and assigns the inode a file descriptor (a number that it keeps track of internally). When you delete the file, you are "unlinking" the inode; the file descriptor still points to it. You can create a new file with the exact same name as the old file after deleting it, effectively "replacing" it, but it will point to a different inode. Any programs that still have the old file open can still access the old file via the file descriptor, but you have effectively upgraded the program in place. As soon as the program terminates (or closes the file), and starts up (or tries to access it again), it accesses the new file, and there you have it, a completely in-place replacement of a file!
(05) GNU/Linux runs well on old hardware.
This extends the life of your computer, and saves money. I can get behind that idea. Because of a combination of the internal design of Linux and development contributions from a diverse community, Linux tends to be more frugal in the use of computer resources. This may manifest itself in a single desktop system running faster with Linux than with another operating system, but the advantages go far beyond that. It is possible, for example, to configure a single Linux system to act as a terminal server and then use outdated hardware as what are called thin clients. This server/thin client configuration makes it possible for older, less powerful hardware to share the resources of a single powerful system thus extending the life of older machines.
(06) Way too many distros! But wait, this is good.
You have a choice — to choose a distro based on your goals and your system. For example, there's a gamer distro; server distros; graphics/video editing distros; "small" distros that install only the basics and then let you install whatever else you want to customize your system; enterprise distros; distros for education; distros for kids; 32 & 64-bit distros, and so on. Your choice. Vista sorta has this idea, but everything under Vista Ultimate merely disables features, and the Mac OS comes in one flavor: vanilla.
(07) The command line. Not as bad as it sounds for us Windows users
because of all things, I left the command line behind when I left DOS. Every time you here command line, instead think "shortcut." Every distro I've worked with so far didn't require me to even go near a command line if I didn't want to. But running a few commands allowed me to solve the mystery of where my second drive is (within the larger "filesystem"). Much like DOS, most everything you do at the command line is no more than 12-20 commands, and that's if you're the power geek. Learning the Shell will make you a command-line master in a very, very short time.
(08) It's a Community Relationship, not a Customer Relationship.
Like, oh... DonationCoder.com! Other operating systems are the products of single vendors. Linux, on the other hand, is openly developed, and this technology is shared among vendors. This means you become part of a community rather than a customer of a single manufacturer. Also, the supplier community easily can adjust to the needs of various user communities rather than spouting a "one size fits all" philosophy. This means you can select a Linux distro (or vendor) that best addresses your needs and feel confident that you could switch vendors at a later time without losing your investment — both in terms of costs and learning.
(09) It's free.
If you download a user-friendly distro like PCLinuxOS or Kubuntu it will fit on a single CD, so a single CD-R disc is all it will cost you. Heck, Ubuntu will even send you a CD for free. It's free in a more important sense, too: no one stops you from copying Linux: the trademark is owned by its creator Linus Torvalds, and the code is owned by many programmers worldwide, but the actual code is released under the GNU Public Licence (GPL) so anyone can do what they want with it. You can install it wherever you like on as many PCs as you want, copy it, sell it, give it away, create your very own distro and distribute it, even hack into the code and change it if you know how. You never need to activate, validate, authenticate, or register it.
GNU/Linux is built for networking, even beginners can connect to the internet, create a SoHo network, even communicate with Windows PCs thanks to Samba, which is software that allows Linux to act as a client on a Microsoft Windows-based network. In fact, Samba includes server facilities such that you could run a Linux system as the server for a group of Linux and Windows-based client systems. Shared printers on a Windows PC are accessible from a GNU/Linux PC and vice versa. Once again, Linux is very strong in this area. In addition, Linux includes software to network with Apple networks.
Part-01: My journey from Windows to Linux
Part-02: Which Linux distro to choose?
Part-03: First impressions and first problems after installation
Part-04: The "User Guide" as life raft, more n00b problems
Part-05: Ten Great Ideas of GNU/Linux
Part-06: Software Management is not that different