My first encounter with the Linux OS was more than 10 years ago during my university days. My friends and I were working with Unix in the labs but we also wanted to be able to do that at home, so we decided to use Linux. Installing Linux back then was not a task for the faint-hearted, it involved a lot of tweaking and hacking of configuration files and boot loaders. Back then there used to be "Linux Parties" held in universities in which you could arrive with your PC and get the help of ubergeeks in installing Linux. Once installed, it was much more stable than Windows (and the PCs seemed to run much faster) but maintaining it still required some hacking. Getting X windows to work with some video cards was a complicated task and support for other devices such as sound was flaky.
I recently discovered that Linux on the desktop is a whole different ball game. Several months ago, I bought a new PC and decided to hack a bit with Linux, so I installed it alongside Windows XP. I read and heard many good reviews about the Ubuntu Linux distro so I decided to try it. Installation was a breeze and everything worked out of the box: the windowing system (Gnome), sound and networking. It was even better than Windows XP. On Windows, the network card and sound did not work until I installed the drivers that came with the computer. My biggest surprise was when I accidentally plugged-in my Canon S45 digital camera while Ubuntu was running (I was planning to reboot to Windows before that) and I immediately got a window dialog saying that the digital camera was detected and then I could see the photo thumbnails stored in the camera. This worked without installing any drivers (which I had to do on Windows). Almost all of the applications I use on Windows have a Linux version or there is a good free alternative, for example OpenOffice is a good replacement for Microsoft Office, Firefox and Thunderbird are better than IE and Outlook Express. These are the reasons why Linux is becoming a viable alternative to proprietary operating systems such as Windows or Mac OS X.
If you want to experience Linux you can do this without installing anything. Just download one of the freely available live-CDs which you can safely boot and run Linux without actually installing it anywhere on your computer. Give it a try, you'll be surprised.