Since I do a lot of SFTP'ing and shell access to a unux server to work with my Wordpress installations, it got me to want to try "linux" (an open source variant of Unix) on my home desktops and laptops.
I have downloaded and installed more versions of Linux on my home desktop this year than I care to publicly admit. After exhaustive testing (which includes installing a new HP wireless laserjet printer) I have found the following two to be the easiest and most useful for average consumers: For systems with at least a core 2 duo processor, install Ubuntu 11.10. It's the most perfect headache free version of linux out there for someone who wants to install and just GO! Installing apps is easier on this version of linux than it is on Windows 7. It's identical to installing an application from the Apple App store. Type in what you're looking for, find what you like, and click to install. Done! Ubuntu has done a great job filtering it down to applications that are fully compliant and not create conflicts with their OS. The selection of linux apps these days is pretty huge and should suit most consumers. The default installed apps will do pretty much everything you want out of the box, though, so there shouldn't be much need to install anything else.
For netbooks or very old computers where printing isn't necessary, install Jolicloud. Same deal...hassle free, everything just works, and it's fast, lightweight, and functional, CRAZY easy to install apps (which are mostly web-based apps that run in a prism.) Both of these are free to download and burn to CD. The installs for both of these is painless for the non-techie consumer.
Runners up: For the desktop, I like Linux Mint, stupid easy to install and use...also built around Ubuntu, the whole objective of Mint is to make Ubuntu easier to use....but it tries SOOO hard that it becomes unnecessarily slow and resource intensive. Worst yet, I couldn't get my printer to work with it, and for something that is trying so hard to make things so simple, WTF? Ouch.... I'm sure with enough trial & error I could have done it, but how many consumers are going to fuck around with the command prompt for hours at a time to get a stinking printer to work? That's very anti-Mint and I hope some day that will improve. Don't ignore Mint... your printer might work fine with it and you might prefer it to normal Ubuntu, but I'd rather have the more clutter-free simplified straight-up Ubuntu (which has gotten a lot easier to use with its latest couple versions, less need for the mint variant than their used to be.)
I also liked OpenSuse (just geeky enough for me, too geeky for the consumer.) For the netbook: peppermint linux will work for most people, but not as simple as jolicloud. Fedora and Debian and BSD are powerful and wonderful but clunky, geeky, requires more than basic IT knowledge. If you're a hardcore linux user, you will definitely disagree with my recommendations.... but my objective this year was to see if linux was ready yet for your average Windows 7 or Mac user. Almost! Last year I'd say 70% there. This year? 80%.
For users who just want to browse the web, check email, use facebook twitter, listen to music, upload and share photos? It's 100% there and way more secure than using any version of windows (and free.) I'm writing this very post on a desktop running Ubuntu 11.10 using Firefox 7, and even the keyboard's Windows key makes Ubuntu's version of the "start menu" show up, and I can type what I want to run or open, and it finds it for me, or runs it for me. I love it. Even my mom could use this, and she's a a complete luddite technophobe.
Also has free (and GOOD) video / audio editing tools. But... no adobe creative suites, and unfortunately to this very day, no support for netflix instant streaming. I suspect that will change when netflix dumps microsoft silverlight and goes all HTML5, but that's a bit down the road. Also, no iTunes. It has things LIKE it, but you won't have the iTunes synchronization of your iPhone or iPod if you have such devices. The "iCloud" is a game changer in that regard, which is starting to make that moot.... and makes linux a more viable alternative.
Linux is 10 times better than it was 5 years ago, and at least twice as good as it was even one year ago. If you installed linux several years ago and are judging it based on that experience, trust me, you don't know shit about it and should try again.
Viva La Open Source!