Ok guys, this is the questions that have been posed to me by John Balzar. I am going to let you guys answer them, this way it is a bit more authentic than coming from the admin of a Linux site.

Dear Josh:
Company policy says I can accept no gifts of value. But I can test drive things. And you have piqued my interest.
My Microsoft column got scads of reaction from like-minded readers. I think many of us are in the same boat. We know there are alternatives, but we aren't tech-minded enough to trust ourselves. Is it possible for people like us to liberate ourselves?
I would be willing, with a little help, to experiment...for a possible column on ``breaking the habit.'' But you are dealing with a writer, not someone who understands or wants to understand the workings of my computer. The link you sent referred to business applications and I cannot ask the whole company to join in such an experiment. What about just one person who wants the choice to choose?
I have 2 computers, both with Windows and related MS Office programs. One belongs to the LATimes the other to me. I don't think I can tamper with the company machine. But I'd give it a go with mine. However, my questions are so rudimentary that I hardly know where to start.
Do you have a primer on the subject?
If my operating system is Linux can I use Outlook and Word? Or do I have to buy a new suite of programs? If Outlook and Word were pre-loaded, do I have to erase them to install Linux?
How much does Mandranke 8.0 cost?
Are there advantages beyond reliability (not to say that reliability is a small thing)?
You see, you are dealing with a real novice.
If this doesn't get too complicated, it might make a good column. On the other hand, if it I'm likely to get bogged down, it may make a column to scare people. I'll leave it to you whether to proceed. But, again, anything I would use beyond the column I'd have to pay for, OK?
Sincerely/John Balzar
Ok, post your answers here and I'll respond to his email.

Aragorn