A couple of months ago, I bought a new HP Pavilion zv6000 series laptop. My particular model features a 64 bit AMD processor. AMD processors are backwards compatible with older, 32 bit processors, allowing legacy software to run on them. Most 64 bit workstations and laptops these days come with Windows XP pre-installed, and my laptop was no exception. Windows XP is a 32 bit operating system and doesn't use the laptop's hardware to its full potential. What use is a 64 bit processor with a 32 bit OS? To exploit the 64 bit capabilities of the laptop, I was left with two choices, upgrading to Windows XP Pro 64, or installing a 64 bit version of Linux.
Currently, Windows XP Pro 64 retails for around $140, and the new laptop purchase left me with little money for upgrades. For those of us that are unable or unwilling to pay the upgrade, the only choice left is to install a 64 version of Linux on it. As an additional benefit, Linux does not suffer from the abundance of virii, spyware and other malware that is so common under Windows. Nowadays, I refuse to do any serious online busines (e.g. online banking or online purchases where I need to enter my credit card number) on a Windows computer, for fear that a piece of spyware might be lurking in there somewhere.
Linux has a reputation of being difficult to use, but that reputation is no longer deserved. Most modern Linux distributions are very easy to install and operate, it is all point and click, very similar to using a Windows or Macintosh computer. Hardware compatibility is still somewhat of an issue, as many hardware manufactures don't provide Linux drivers for their devices. If in doubt, there is a hardware compatibility howto that you can check to see if your hardware is supported (see resources).
Another issue is that most software companies only create
software for Windows, however, there are free alternatives for many
commercial Windows applications that run on Linux. For example,
Evolution is an email client that is very similar to Microsoft Outlook,
Firefox is a superior alternative to Internet Explorer, the GNU Image
Manipulation Program (GIMP) is an alternative to Photoshop for image
manipulation, OpenOffice.org is an office suite that can read and write
in Microsoft Office formats. There are many other Linux
applications that are suitable replacements for Windows applications and
are free in every sense of the word.
Having previous Linux experience, the decision to install a 64 bit Linux
distribution on my Laptop was a no-brainer for me. Based on my
experience Fedora Core 4 is a good choice, since of all the 64 bit Linux
distributions I tried, it had the easiest installation procedure, and it
provided the easiest way to run both 64 bit and older 32 bit software
together(many software packages are only available in 32 bit versions).
Other user friendly Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Linspire,
and SUSE. Some of the more advanced and not as user friendly
distributions include Gentoo, Debian and Slackware.
I am pleased with my decision to install Linux on my laptop, the only drawbacks I have found is the lack of some Firefox plugins for Linux 64, namely Flash and Java, but luckily, running a 32 bit version of Firefox is a breeze under Fedora, and I can install both of those plugins on my 32 version of Firefox.
If you are ready to take the plunge and exploit your 64 bit computer's capabilities to its full potential, go ahead and give Linux a try, you won't be dissapointed.