Fine if you want a hobby;
not ready for prime time if you use a computer as a tool.
I have never used Linux, but know that expert opinion is to the effect that it has won a niche in the server market and some specialized applications, but is still a hard stretch for PC use.
I kept my machine as a dual boot for a while. I really like Linux, but you have to be prepared to spend a lot of time fussing with it. There was a part of me that loved fussing with it...but then I'd need something done in a hurry, and I didn't know how, and I had to climb up that learning curve one more time.
www.lindows.com...smooth as silk
I use the Suse version of Linux which co-habitates well with the Windows operating systems.
You might do better with Mandrake. We had my daughter (17 yrs old) using it for several months, and she did just fine. I think the install is fairly simple as well. I don't recall if she or my husband installed it though.
I used SUSE a couple of years ago on my "office" machine, and it was pretty easy to use. I'd almost run it again just for the linux penguin version of Mr. Potato Head ;^)
Mandrake 10 or 9 are easy installs - and as always redhat. Most of the other distros are derivatives of redhat. I just got RH ES - ill be installing that this weekend.
Download the boot cd from mandrake and check out it out with out installing it
It works great and is solid. But like Apple, don't expect to find a lot of software, and you may also have problems finding all the drivers to make your equipment compatible. It is a very slow drip from the technology faucets...
Don't use it on your primary home system unless (a) you know what you're doing (b) you have a lot of time for twiddling.
I've used it off-and-on as dual-boot (and VMWare) for years, because there are a lot of good technical network tools.
But for day-to-day home use you might best stick to Windoze.
Or run it on a second home system if you're just getting up to speed on Linux (one of its virtues is that it's less demanding than Windoze, so you can run it on cheaper, secondhand gear).
You don't actually install it to your hard drive, though you can if you decide you like it.
Knoppix finds and installs hardware modems, but does not work with Winmodems. If you have broadband, it should find your network card without a problem.
The only way to know if Linux is appropriate for YOU is for YOU to actually try it, rather than listening to people with one agenda or another.
I installed Linux Mandrake 9.1 on a computer I bought without an operating system. It was slow and buggy. When I removed it, using the instructions from the Linux website, my HDD went belly up. The HDD manufacturer (Sony) says removing Linux voided the HDD waranty.
I bought Windows ME on Ebay for the same price I paid for Linux. Windows is lightyears ahead of Linux! IMHO.
It doesn't sound like you really know what you are doing.
Windows software can work under Linux using WINE, which emulates windows for the software. However, it can be very tricky to set up.
You really won't need any Windows software to do everyday computing. Most distros come with almost any software you would need. Openoffice.org gives a complete office suite, Mozilla or Firefox browsers for net surfing and there are several e-mail programs. There are only a few commercial games available for Linux, although most distros come with a ton of simple timewasters.
Set up your system dual boot or dedicate an older system to experiment with.
Windows is still a better option for the typical home user since most commercial software is Windows-only. Linux will work very well if you need a powerful server or an inexpensive box for web browsing and word processing.
If you use it for doing graphics, office-type stuff and internet, you may well find it to be a godsend to keep from having to deal with the virus windows of the day. If you want servers for stuff like webpages, or audio linux can do more than you can shake a stick at.
Some stuff that should be easy though, are not. Take printing for example. If you want to set up a local printer, no problem. Attaching to network printers isn't much trouble either. However, if you want to share your local printer with others on your local network, it's a PITA.
As far as your windows programs go, Linux will run windows programs under WINE, but unless you just really need to run the windows program, you're better off using the Linux equivalents. StarOffice is an excellent replacement for microsoft office, with the exception of ms project and visio.
If you use your computer for managing your personal finances, GnuCash is bloody awesome. With linux you have a choice of many different versions of software for many things. It might take a while for you to figure out exactly what you want, and what works best for you, but the time invested is better for you in the long run IMO, as once you learn how things work and have your system set up correctly, your system will run for quite a while without banging your head up against walls quite as much as you are probably used to.
One of the things that will keep me from ever using ms windows again is that I just can't use a computer anymore without having multiple desktops. I normally run with 8 separate desktops, each containing specfic programs so I always know where to find them. Given the type of support work I do, working within the limitations of windows would slow me down so much it just isn't even worth thinking about.
You do not mention what hardware you are trying to install this on. RH won't install on hardware that is too slow these days. For instance, the installer won't run on my Pentium 120 that I use as a firewall.
Also, do you actually mean Red Hat, or do you mean Fedora? I would try Fedora (from the Red Hat site), if you are trying to install RH 9.0.
what specifically are you having trouble with?
Red Hat isn't a favorite these days. Suse, Mandrake or Debian seem to be quite popular, better supported and more usable.
If you just want to test the Linux waters, download Knoppix and boot from a CD (save your config and files on a USB key or USB hard drive). OpenOffice and a couple web browsers, as well as lots of other software, are included.
I find it interesting that on my laptop OpenOffice for Linux opens faster from my Knoppix CD than OpenOffice for Windows does off the hard drive.
If your PC is set to boot from CD-ROM, it will boot into FreeBSD. You can try it out, and if you don't like it, eject the CD, reboot, and you're back in Windows (or Linux) with no harm done and no lasting effect on your computer.
Obtain a reasonably powered used computer. Pentium II or III's work well. The more generic the better. Barebones and low cost kit computers work well also due to their generic nature. A hard drive with at least 2 gigs (laughable by today's standards), a BIOS capable of booting from a CD or alternately a 3.5 inch floppy drive, and a reasonable amount of RAM. Download your Slackware 10.0 iso file and burn to disk. Read the installation instructions on the CD and print them for reference. Boot the CD or optionally from the floppy boot images on your future linux box and follow the menu driven installation. After you've formatted the drive, created your filesystem, installed everything you want from the CD, and have written the boot information to the master boot record, remove the media, and reboot from the hard drive. Watch those wonderful boot messages scroll by. Log in as root. Start perusing your new file system. Look for something called "HOWTO" files in /usr/doc/ and use the program "less" to read them. They will be your bibles for a while. The program "man" is the basic help system, and the familiar DOS commands for filesystem navigation and manipulation (cd mkdir rmdir) work as usual, except del is now called rm and dir is now ls. Each evening after you tire of freeping, log into your linux box and learn more. A book or two from the library on unix works wonders. The more inquisitive you are, the faster you will learn. Disregard comments regarding lack of available software, unfit for the desktop and other mid-nineties mantras. That is the way grasshopper.
This will give you a chance to use it without committing. I for one popped it in and was immediately impressed. Next weekend, I will be installing either Red Hat or Mandrake completely.