My personal experiences:
While I was in college, my roommate was a big time Linux guy - I was in for Web Design, he was in for Networking, but we both loved playing PC games (we had been friends at a community college before becoming roommates). I would frequently use his Desktop while he was in class to play WoW and some FPS games he had on there, which ran Windows. However, he also had a laptop he dual booted between Windows/Fedora, which I would also play with occasionally. One day, when my laptop crapped out (not sure why, I just started getting random blue screens, freezing, etc...), I went to the school bookstore and picked up my copy of Windows XP for $12, but when I got back to the room, he talked me into dual-booting to give Fedora a try.
I must admit, it wasn't pretty. Fedora is DEFINITELY not a beginner distro, but I didn't know that back then. I eventually went back to Windows XP, but I experimented with some different distros along the way, including Ubuntu Feisty, PCLOS (forgot the version I used), and Mint 6 eventually. In my last year there, I used my saved up financial aid money to buy parts for my own desktop, which I built at school and installed Windows XP on.
Two months after I was done at school, the computer crashed, and I needed a reformat. However, the XP disc I was using ran out of License Key uses (you could call MS to have it extended, but why bother), so my reformat was to Ubuntu Hardy - the first time I went completely to Linux. Shortly afterwards, my laptop (5 years old at this point) became a Mint 6 laptop. Soon after that, the motherboard on the desktop crapped out, and I got lazy and didn't replace it (still to this day, actually...). I used my old laptop for a couple months, but eventually splurged on a new Lenovo Thinkpad. Little did I know the model I was using wasn't "compatible" with Linux - meaning some of the hotkey buttons didn't work, and no Fn buttons worked.
So, I spent about 2 days total (maybe about 4 hours a day for 2 days) getting Ubuntu Jaunty installed on there, and I had it working perfect. To that point, my experience in Linux was minimal, and anything I ever needed to fix I did myself, with a little help from Google and Ubuntu Forums.
When Karmic came out, I opted for a fresh install, home directory and all. Despite all the problems the rest of the community had with it, my install went perfectly, and I had the whole thing up and running in about 2 hours. After an update just about 2 months ago, my Xorg server got all screwed up (no window borders, couldn't move windows, and a bunch of other stuff), so I decided to give the new Mint 8 a try.
Well, here I am now, Mint 8 running excellent on my laptop. At this point, my Linux experience has been excellent, with very little going wrong. When anything did go wrong, there's Google and the forums to guide me through.
That was my story, and I only share it to set up the next point: my friend's story.
When I was in school for Web Design, I knew my way around a computer. I knew past the fact that (as other have said in this thread) my computer had more to it than most people know. I knew how to play with the registry in Windows, and I knew how to troubleshoot problems, etc... A friend of mine who was also in college for Programming eventually needed a laptop for school. When he was done in school, it crashed, and he needed a reformat.
I suggested that he try Ubuntu, so he downloaded/burned the iso and installed it. Little did he know a problem happened during burning, and the OS install was a little botched, so I burned him a new copy of Ubuntu, and he installed it with no problems. He knew his way around the computer as well, I would just say probably not as well as I knew it. Commence the phone calls. I helped him through some of his problems, including wireless (everyone's favorite), NVIDIA drivers, etc...
Well, in short, he didn't like Ubuntu, and the reason was because even though stuff was easy to fix, he didn't like the fact that he HAD to fix it. He simply wanted everything to work, and he also hated the fact that Wine wouldn't run everything he needed. However, despite the fact that it wasn't set up like Windows, he had no problem finding his way around. In fact, he like the organization of Ubuntu/GNOME better than Windows.
It's practically the same thing, but I recently had him install Mint 8 just to give it a shot, and its weird, but none of those problems carried over to Mint. He installed it, it worked right out of the box, and he's still using it. He's since told me about one minor problem he had with his audio acting up, but Google turned up the answer he needed, and he was pumped that he fixed it on his own.
Here are my points in this long post...
1. Linux isn't for everyone, but we know that already. If you don't know how to use Google (in other words, type words into the box and press a button), and you don't want to do any work on your PC that you didn't have to do on Windows, it's DEFINITELY not for you. But then again, if you don't know how to use Google, you're in some trouble anyway...
2. If you do like working on your PC, and you don't mind getting your hands dirty, Linux is awesome. I didn't really like the whole concept of getting a PC to work at first, but now I see it much differently.
3. If you're looking for the closest thing to Windows, I have to suggest Mint. Mint has been awesome during my time with it (from Elyssa to Helena), and who can argue with the way the desktop is set up? It's Windows at first glance, but a much more powerful OS under the hood.
4. Unfortunately, I don't see Linux EVER competing with Windows. Fortunately, that's for the best. When I got into Ubuntu back in Feisty, the forums was a place to go look for help, and get it rather quickly. Lately, I've been noticing a post only stays up for a few seconds, because 50 other people are making posts to the tune of "Ubuntu doesn't work, I'm going back to Windows". These posts are the offspring of Linux getting into the hands of people who cannot and should not be using it. People like my dad. I love him to death, but the man simply cannot use a computer AT ALL. If it wasn't for the "Blue Internet Icon" (which has since become an "Orange Internet Icon") on the desktop, he wouldn't know how to check his mail. God forbid he EVER touches Linux, he'd probably end up taking a sledgehammer to the computer, then start moaning about it not working because there's a giant hole in the side of it.
That's about it, I just want to end this by saying I love Linux Mint, it's been a pleasure to use so far, and I look forward to using it for years to come. If anyone wants a Windows alternative that won't turn them off, I personally think you can't do better.
And for everyone out there who can't use Google... you'll never become the local computer expert
. That URL was found by typing "xkcd computer expert" into Google, by the way.