For those who are tired of paying Microsoft or Apple for software, and then paying then again to upgrade to the next release, there is an alternative. Yes, I am a Linux advocate and dedicated Linux user. Just as Linux is rapidly gaining acceptance as a server platform in corporate America to reduce IT costs, more and more average people are trying it out on their home computers and finding that it is a reasonable replacement for the old standbys.
Linux has a reputation for only being suited for the über geeky. However, most modern distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, openSuse, Mint, Mandriva and Debian have become quite user friendly without requiring extensive manual configuration editing. My personal preference is the Ubuntu distribution running the Gnome desktop as seen in the screen-shot below:
I've changed Ubuntu's less than pleasing default look and feel to the Nimbus theme that was developed for openSolaris. Gnome is easily configurable and with little effort can be customized to look and behave like a Mac or a Windows machine. Imagination is the only limiting factor.
I love my Linux box, both the price and the functionality as well as the easy upgrades to new release. But not everything works flawlessly. Media encoded in proprietary Microsoft formats can be played. This an inconvenient reality than all Linux users must learn to live with.
But even with these annoyances, Linux is well worth a try. It comes with its own office suite, graphics editor, sound editor, video editor, numerous video and sound players, dvd/cd burners and rippers, plus many more features.
If you're not ready to cut the cord on Windows, try giving Linux a spin inside Sun's VirtualBox or configure a dual boot environment between Windows and Linux. Many tutorials exist on the web to walk you through these options step by step. I've read articles claiming that a private company would have to invest upwards of $10B in R&D to recreate the software developed by the open source Linux developers. That is a pretty strong sales pitch to me.