I started using Linux in 1993. I initially used it only in text-mode as I didn’t have enough RAM to run XFree86 on my Linux machine. I ran text-mode Linux server machines from 1993 to 1998. In 1998 I purchased my first laptop and installed Linux with KDE on it. I chose KDE because it had the greatest similarity to OS/2 which I had used as my desktop OS prior to that time. At the same time I purchased an identical laptop for my sister and gave her an identical configuration of Linux and KDE.
Running a Linux laptop in 1998 was a lot harder for a non-technical person than it is today. There was little compatability with MS file formats and few options for support for Internet connections and third-party hardware and software (most things worked but you needed to know what to do). One advantage of using Linux in this regard is that the remote support options have always been good, I was able to fix my sister’s laptop no matter which country she was in and which country I was in. Her laptop kept working for more than 5 years without the need for a reinstall (try that on Windows).
It was when VMWare first became available (maybe 2000) that I converted my parents to using Linux. At first they complained a bit about it being different and found VMWare less convenient than the OS/2 Dos box for running their old DOS programs. But eventually they broke their dependence on DOS programs and things ran fairly smoothly. There were occasions when they complained about not having perceived benefits of Windows (such as the supposed ability to plug in random pieces of hardware and have things all work perfectly). The fact that using OS/2 and then Linux has given them 14 years of computer use with no viruses and no trojans tends to get overlooked.
Of recent times the only problem that my parents have experienced is when they bought a random cheap printer without asking my advice. The printer in question turned out to not work with Fedora Core 4, but when Fedora Core 5 came out the printer worked. Waiting 6 months for a printer upgrade isn’t really a serious problem (the old printer which had worked 6+ years was still going strong).
My parents and my sister now have second-hand P3 desktop machines running Fedora. P3 CPUs dissipate significantly less heat than P4 and Athlon CPUs, this significantly reduces the risk of hard drives dying when machines are left on in unairconditioned rooms as well as saving money on electricity. For the typical home user who doesn’t play 3D games there is no real need for a CPU that’s more powerful than a 1GHz P3. This of course means that there is less need for me to reinstall on newer hardware which also means more reliability.
I always find it strange when people claim that Linux isn’t ready for the desktop. I provide all the support for three non-technical users of Linux on the desktop and it really doesn’t take much work because things just work. Corporate desktops are even easier, in a company you install what people need for their work and don’t permit them to do anything different.
It seems to me that Linux has been ready for the desktop since 1998.