I don't usually get all geeked out here, but indulge me for once ...
In the Beginning
In those early days it was often a struggle to get Linux running with your particular brand of hardware -- especially on laptops with their custom touchpads, graphics, and network interfaces. Linux user groups would hold "install fests" to help people over the technical hurdles, just for the fun of it. But once you were up and running, there wasn't a lot of software available for the desktop user. Unless of course you wanted to built a web or file or database server, in which case your tool set was second only to the big commercial versions of Unix. That too has changed. So much free software now comes along with most Linux distributions that someone has claimed, "If Microsoft put all this stuff on one disk the Department of Justice would be all over them for monopolistic practices."
Over the years I've installed various flavors of Linux on a succession of ever more powerful hardware. Starting with an old 486 processor with 16 megabytes of RAM and a 10 gig hard drive, and ending up with a dual core beast with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a full terabyte drive. This thing has enough horsepower to run one or more extra operating systems in their own virtual machine windows while hardly breaking a sweat. (Of course, dual core processors are now so last year. Any self respecting video gamer is running an i7 with 8 cores.)
Until recently, though, I have only tried installing Linux on one laptop. This was a reconditioned machine purchased by a friend that was delivered for cheap without an operating system. Rather than blowing over a hundred bucks to add Windows, it turned out to be a simple matter to get a free Linux installation working on it. There was only one challenge. The friend wanted to use a cellular data card to access the Internet, and the system refused to recognize it as a valid network connection. Finally I realized that it worked like a dialup modem -- it was basically making a cell phone call to get online, like in the old AOL days. Naturally, Linux has had dialup support for years, so all I had to do was configure PPPD (for Point to Point Protocol Daemon) to make the connection, then write a simple script to connect, and another to disconnect. Voila, le Google.
This was not a task that an average user could be expected to perform. But luckily things have progressed even further now, to the point where I can pretty much recommend that installing my favorite operating system on your laptop -- even the most basic netbook -- is a thing you should really try. I know because I just did it myself.
[Next time -- my own netbook experience.]