PC-ball is the game and the platform wars are played in public. There is no mystery to the behind the scenes of MS and Mac. They are the darlings of the press and stars of TV and Internet. The glamor and the glitz and even the tech press follow the head honchos, the products and the fans. But have you ever wondered what goes on in the Linux camps. The Linus Crew is illusive at times, you'd never know unless they tell you. Linux though famous in the internet infrastructure is not the "commercial success" on the desktop. But then again they have not played by the same rules from the get. The amazing thing is that the results are the same, when they hit the platform playing field, they play well! I won't hold you in suspense:
This was my PC running XFCE on Xubuntu 8.06. No menus or programs open, very clean, simple efficient and fast. Works on PCs with low resources. I also like Openbox and Fluxbox desktops, both not too hard to tweak. These all have that handy right mouse click screen menu, as well as the icon button in the bar.
This is the same PC after I upgraded to Ubuntu 9.04 with Gnome desktop. I added some Screenlet apps on the right, but I rather have stuff in the bar on the top. The bar on the bottom is auto-hidden.
This last one is my PC running the same Ubuntu 9.04 but the latest KDE 4.3.1 is on deck. KDE was trying out different approaches, when the dust settled they all became options, only sleek and improved. I now can say I like KDE a lot.
As you can see some of the elements of each desktop are the same and some have their own twist or flavor. XFCE and Gnome share the same programming library and KDE uses a different library. There are applications that favor one desktop or another, some made to integrate better or are made outright for a particular desktop. The user needn't worry, whatever resources any application needs is installed as needed. This means that stuff meant for one desktop will seamlessly install and work on others. So, over time I have tried various desktops and various applications to find ones I prefer. The human tendency is to stick with one and suffer with it no matter what. Linux gives you the option to suffer less, but you must look into it and it is OK to ask for help.
There is only one big fuzzy Linux. When, you focus it for server work, you don't even need a GUI! You can make a kiosk appliance out of it, a video toaster, an email/internet machine, a general use PC, a gaming machine, an engineering workstation and more. What ever your focus is, Linux can serve in that niche. The one thing for certain is that you don't have to suffer with one approach and share the misery with every single user and have no power to change it. In the Linux developer camps, coders massage all the elements to being various solutions to the front. Then you can pick which solutions fit your needs. Most times you see what others are using and go with that. After you become familiar with this world your options expand. You can start with a minimum or the max.
The GUI is the Graphical User Interface or the human compatibility layer. It should be adjustable to fit you. Then there are applications that take full advantage of the GUI and do anything you can imagine. The caveat, you must realize that just because an application is not in professional use, like Photoshop or MS Office Suite, doesn't mean that the same or similar quality, work flow or output is not there. So if you don't need the proware, can't afford the proware, you don't have to do without or be obligated to beg, borrow or steal the proware. Skills are transferable, cut your grits on Linux and Open Source software now and when to get to MS or Mac you are not starting from scratch. But I will warn you now, Linux and Open Source are lovable and habit-forming, you may find Linux is fine for you.
If you are so MS struck and want to try Linux, you can use the Live-CD Linux. With Live-CDs you boot from the CD, Linux runs in RAM memory, you can save to a jump drive and when you shut down, Linux is gone from your PC without a trace. You can install Linux on the same hard drive as MS Windows and dual boot. You'd have to make a separate partition because MS and Linux are not compatable. The best is to have two hard drives, one for each operating system. Linux has a boot loader called GRUB, it pops up a menu screen to let you select to start MS Windows or Linux. MS Windows doesn't offer that. There are other ways to run two operating systems, it gets quite techie.
I am not saying that Linux is rooky stuff, it's more like American League vs National League vs International League. Globally everybody knows the game, but in the International League the flavors are more diverse. We are so hooked on two team sports, time to introduce a new level of play. Now to level the playing field things like fonts and document formats that travel cross-operating system-platforms must be out of the control of any operating system company, they shouldn't be OS dependent. Then we can play PC-ball with our best stuff and the fans will go wild.