There is some very high competition in the operating system industry these days. As people become more tuned in to technology, they tend to gravitate towards one of three choices. These three, Windows, OS-X, and Linux, are always in stiff competition with each other to pull more users to their user-base. Incorporate the vast amount of server technologies out there, and virtualization, and there are a ton of options available for operating systems, all having their unique characteristics. Most hardcore users are dedicated to one platform, but you find a lot of true professionals starting to diversify themselves by learning two or more of the available platforms. For the focus of this article, I am going to disregard OS-X, however, for completeness, I am going to discuss it's structure briefly.
OS-X runs atop of Darwin, which is a sort of hybrid of BSD, the Mach-3 micro-kernel, and a device driver API, or programming interface, called I / O Kit. Being that OS-X runs on BSD, it's basically a UNIX system, different from Linux, because linux is open-source, where UNIX is closed-source. One of the great advantages of this type of architecture is the ability to use the Mach-O binary format, which not only allows you to utilize symmetric multi-processing, but also allows a single executable file, even the kernel, to include support for tons of CPU architectures. With some ingenuity, almost any piece of software that can be made to work under Linux can be made work under OS-X. Apple does manufacture a very nice machine. I find that most people that are dedicated to Mac's are graphic designers or musicians. The reasoning being that Apples' system is really tailored around these types of apps. From hardware to software, everything is tweaked for optimal performance.
Windows, ah windows. Windows was introduced in 1985, as a second-rate add-on for DOS. It was kind of Microsoft's answer to the Mac. While the initial releases of windows were pretty basic, for the time, they were a decent alternative to running DOS as your sole operating system. Windows was, initially, riddled with problems. Tedious driver installation, bogus hardware recognition, and a flawed system BIOS structure were plaguing the operating system, restricting users from the option of using it as their sole base of operation. There was also a steep competition factor at this point in the technology's revolution, as companies were beginning to emerge as leaders in the industry. Personally, operating under DOS, while tedious, gave you more control over what was happening, while Windows, required you to relinquish some configuration options in exchange for ease of use. In it's infancy, you did have the ability to control environment variables and several other settings via DOS before launching windows. With the advent of Windows 95, all that would change. This Microsoft was's first attempt at a fully windowed OS.
While you still have access to a DOS prompt, through command.com, you are stripped of the pure DOS interface, as several files are loaded at boot by default in order to make the OS function properly. Beta builds of Windows 95 started hitting the net in mass in early 95. It took me three years, until the late beta stages of Windows 98, before I tested the OS as a dedicated one. Everything was cumbersome, but the desire for a new platform overwhelmed me and I had to give it a try. It resulted in the re-installation of DOS, with windows running on top of it, but it was interesting. Microsoft has stepped up it's game throughout the years, and they now have one of the largest user-bases in the world. Windows has been re-hashed and re-released several times since then, making some notable transitions. From Windows 98 to Windows XP there was a massive shift, the incorporation of plug-and-play technology, which added BIOS calls for identifying different hardware, to the addition of a new user environment. XP was a pretty significant step for Microsoft, bringing them closer to their 'vision' of where they thought computing was going. Their thoughts were right-on, and they cornered the operating system market at release. With the release of Windows Vista, and its predecessor, Windows 7, they have further demonstrated their ability to ease computer use for the average person.
Linux, is emerging as one of the best options available for low-cost high-end operations. Linux is the result of collaboration of millions of computer users from across the world pooling their efforts for the progression of the greater good. Linux is open-source, which means that all of the operating systems components are released under the GPL. The code can be custom-tailored and replicated in whole or part, allowing people to release their customizations and modifications. The speeds that Linux produces, even on mediocre machines, can be almost astounding when compared to Windows operating on the same machine. While Linux is definitely for advanced users at the moment, in the next year it will be ready to go for home users.
There are already several versions of Ubuntu available for the brave ones. Linux offers everything you need in an operating system, it just all has not been made to work properly yet. If you are an advanced user, perhaps Linux is a viable option for you. If you have several years of computing experience, or have developed a knack for technology, then Linux can provide a ton of interesting options to you, and can far outperform Windows. The ability to customize the kernel to your liking, total control of your user interface, and total environmental monitoring are just some of the advantages of utilizing a Linux based OS. The Ubuntu 'flavor' of Linux is emerging as a leader in Linux for the home user. Ubuntu offers ease of installation, does not require you to compile your own kernel, and has an ever-growing library of supported hardware. There are also several devices popping up around the market that are hard-coded with the Linux OS.
Generally, you can find the most user-configurable environment within Linux. This configuration can, however, be hard to achieve. I have spent countless hours honing my Linux install to perfection. Any time that you incorporate a new software package or kernel update, you may face difficulty's. Getting graphics drivers working can be tedious, especially for high-end configurations. However, the work is worth it, if you've got the skills, to see linux working on a multi-desktop display. Another not so well known piece of software is Compiz Fusion. Compiz Fusion is Windows in it's greatest form. Your desktop is transformed into 4 desktops, all having independent window layouts, with the ability to shift between the desktops and work in individual workspaces at random.
While Compiz operates on the plugin level, remember that it certainly can, and will cause adverse effects to your system. Be careful with Compiz settings, but if your system totally freezes, just hold the power button for 10 seconds, it will turn off, wait for 30 more, then turn it back on, boot as normal, Compiz should go with the settings that were stored before, since you did not apply and only tested the settings. The cube setting is one of the most stunning graphical layouts for a desktop that I have ever seen, especially when spread across three monitors. The cube setting in Compiz turns the four graphical terminals provided to you by Compiz into a three dimensional cube, that you can rotate with your mouse and zoom in and out of, it also has another plug-in that makes your windows pop off of the desktop in a three-dimensional casing. Conky is a very interesting desktop 'widget' feature that allows you almost endless options as far as customization.
You can monitor your CPU, memory, temperature all over your system, and plug-in almost any variable from anywhere if you want to, you just have to know how. There are several default Conky plug-ins available, including weather and temperature monitoring scripts. Video cards are important when running Linux on any computer. Nvidia is in a steady competition with ATI to provide cutting-edge hardware and support to their customers. While ATI does provide some really nice hardware, their Linux support is semi-lacking, often you will find Nvidia having better support, resulting in better and more well-implemented graphics.