I live in Portland, Oregon, where open source is not just the favored software methodology but a way of life. Yet despite my buddies sporting their Linux user group laptop stickers, I was desperately afraid. It sounded hard. It sounded geeky.

Then I needed a new laptop. I was going freelance and sending my corporate laptop back to the mothership. The refurbished Dell Latitude I bought was only $245 but came without an operating system. My geeky friends suggested Ubuntu -- the free operating system Linux users consider a beginner's option. I'd save a few hundred dollars on Microsoft Vista and the Office suite; and I didn't have the extra money so it was really my only option. That or spend a lot of time at the public library.

I received my new laptop a few weeks before I would have to send back my old ones, so I had time to burn a copy of the Ubuntu operating system onto a disk (note: use the slowest possible burn speed for best results). After a few mis-starts due to badly copied images (see note), I had my computer running Ubuntu and Open Office and had entered the ranks of true geekdom. While occasionally I have to peek nervously into Ubuntu help forums to figure out how to install something, and still can't figure out how to watch videos on ABC.com, I can do all the work I could do with my bloated Microsoft system. It feels good supporting something that's community-based; Bill Gates has enough money. What's more, the laptop doesn't come packed with 100 different icons cluttering the desktop (Try NetZero!). When my husband told me he wanted to get his great uncle a computer (so he can get church emails), I told him unequivocally: go Ubuntu!

I still haven't been to a Linux user's group. Baby steps...

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