I was catching up on my slashdot articles and found an interesting note about a major computer manufacturer (hint: you'll find out who it is if you follow the links) who has been dancing in and out of the closet issue about supporting Linux as a viable option for users. Their latest round has boiled things down between Windows and Ubuntu. They have made the following conclusions about which choice you should make:
It's hard to argue with the points that if your computing is largely wrapped in Windows proprietary software that you should be using Windows. It's also hard to argue with the idea that you should use Ubuntu if you are interested in open source programming. I guess where I disagree is that idea that Windows is the best starting place for people who are new to computers.
I've been away from Windows for a while. I can never completely escape it, because people I know who have Windows still ask me for help with problems. I have noticed that as things have passed through Window XP, then Vista then Windows 7 (Vista 2.0) that I have more and more difficulty keeping up with how to configure things. I can always find the answers with a quick web search, but the point is that I have to look it up. If it was truly easy and intuitive then it would naturally lead me to the answers. So, why would starting with Windows put a new user at an advantage?
If you are new to computing then you don't have any expectations. You are learning technologies from the beginning. At that point I don't see that either system would make any difference to you. Sure, you might have more Windows users to throw rocks at-- I mean more Windows users within a stones' throw to help you out... but you might also know a few people who use Linux. Ubuntu has an easy install, an almost magical way of finding and installing software. The default settings are all pretty reasonable for a typical user. It's designed to connect you to the Internet and get you browsing with no special software loads or changes.
In addition, someone new to computers would have access to tools for art design, media editing, programming, security, and any number of other interests. All they have to hit the button and it's theirs. True, the applications may not be the most common commercial editions of these tools, but this person is new. They are trying to learn how technologies work. How better to introduce them than to provide freely available resources that will let them experiment. As an example, I'll give GIMP (which has a very nice article in the Open Source zone right now). GIMP stands for the Gnu Image Manipulation Program. It's an editor that provides enormous capabilities to edit photos and other pixel-based graphics which you would use on the web and in documents. It rivals Adobe Photoshop in its functions and I have actually used tutorials that were written for Photoshop to learn skills in GIMP. Someone learning about pixel-editing can learn a great deal with this tool and put out results that are usable by anyone. (GIMP supports a ridiculous number of graphic formats.) There are many other applications that are similar.
I really want to challenge this last point. In fact, I think that someone new to computers who starts with Linux will fail to develop a number of bad habits that seem to occur with people who grow up with Windows. They'll find community assistance early on. (The Ubuntu help forums are very friendly and usually provide tutorial-quality answers for solving problems.) They'll learn that there are options available for software and that they can and should make choices when they select a tool. They'll grow with their curiosity rather than be driven by fear that they may or may not be licensed correctly for what they are doing.
I know many will disagree with me, but I'd love a chance to take a group of kids and raise them through a Linux program versus a Windows curriculum. I think the Linux kids will have a broader more creative view of technology and will dive into a community-drive, open, global world. I think they'll be people who look for solutions rather than waiting for answers. It could be a beautiful thing.