Canonical has finally (publicly) positioned Ubuntu as the direct competitor to Microsoft Windows. The Ubuntu home page flashes flashed this message “Avoid the pain of Windows 8”. Canonical removed the message as people discussed it on a Canonical engineer Alan Pope's Google+ page. The message was replaced with “Your wish is our command”. I am not going to talk about whether that message was OK or not as Mark Shuttleworth clarified “That banner was totally un-Ubuntu and was changed as soon as someone senior saw it. Apologies."
However, the question remains is Ubuntu anywhere close to being a Windows competitor? Which is a better option for a Windows XP or Windows 7 user – Windows 8 or Ubuntu 12.10? Can you really avoid the pain of Windows 8 by using Ubuntu?
It depends on what you use your PC for.
I am a power users and I do use Windows once in a while for strictly 3 things – film editing, image processing for my photography and playing games. I use Windows as an appliance, as a coffee machine, because the FLOSS alternatives for tools I need are not there. I don't use Windows, the OS, I use Windows, the platform, as the apps I use are available only for this platform. Even in that case I am talking about specialized usage which makes a very small user-base. So, from a user's perspective I can see how substantial are Ubuntu's claims against Windows.
Both Windows 8 and Ubuntu 12.10 offer a new UI, both need a bit of learning curve. As I said above, whether you can replace your Windows machine with Ubuntu or not heavily depends on what you do on your system. If you are an average PC user who uses it for internet browsing, checking your mails, doing basic image editing, watching movies (not Netflix), listening to music, creating documents (with LibreOffice), staying connected to friends and don't have plethora of hardware then there is no need for you to use Windows 8. You will be happier with Ubuntu 12.10.
But if you are a high-end gamer, a designer, a photographer who creates HDR or needs more refining of images, if you are into latest and greatest hardware (such as touch screen display) or if you rely on a lot of Windows only applications such as Microsoft Office, Photo Shop, Adobe Premier, or if you own a smartphone or tablet which needs a client to update it then Ubuntu is not suited for you. You will be better off with Windows or Mac.
If you do fall in the category of an average PC user who doesn't have that many specialized needs, Ubuntu will actually make life easier for you. There are numerous advantages that Ubuntu has over Windows. If there is a learning curve with Windows 8, there is a learning curve with Ubuntu as well – though not as steep as Windows 8.
Most popular and open source applications are available for Ubuntu – from Skype to Dropbox so chances are that you will find most of the apps that you need in Ubuntu. Windows 8 is introducing the same Software Center Concept that has been in Ubuntu for ages so installing an application under Ubuntu is extremely easy.
Based on my own experience, as I have converted quite a lot of disgruntled Windows users to Linux distros such as Ubuntu and openSUSE , I can say Ubuntu does pose a serious challenge to Windows in the 'average' PC market.
Thanks to developers like Kluas Knopper who popularized the concept of LiveCDs in Linux, you can very easily test Ubuntu on your PC without installing it on your hard drive. And if everything works fine, and chances are it will, you can go ahead and install it.
There is a huge Ubuntu community – forums like AskUbuntu, mailing lists and sites like OMG! Ubuntu – which will make you comfortable with Ubuntu.
So, if you are sitting at the fence and are willing try out a non-Windows OS which is extremely secure and available for free, you should be downloading Ubuntu now! You won't have to go back to Windows. If, for some reason, you don't like Ubuntu there are hundreds of decent Linux distributions out there to take care of your needs.
It won't hurt to try.