Peripherals for their computers:
When a casual user is looking to purchase a computer or simply better accessorize an existing one, they expect to be able to go to their big box store and buy whatever fits within the scope of their personal needs. For some, this is based on functionality, while to others, this means locating the best price possible. Generally, the two most common peripherals outside of a mouse/keyboard are the printer/scanner.
Vista: Unless the user is presented with an extremely dated or extremely new printer or scanner, the chances are excellent that it will work out of the box. If it is a newer model, then it may mean using the included driver CD, which offers extra software to provide maximum functionality for the end user.
Linux: Due to the fact that you will not find a printer or scanner with a CD containing Linux drivers for that device, its up to the vendor and/or community to ensure that these drivers are provided via CUPS/SANE.
In both the case of printers and scanners, support is pretty good. This said, if you are thinking all-in-one printer support, think HP.
Winner? Vista wins with the sheer number of compatible devices, while Linux wins with a better peripheral installation experience. With Linux, it will either be supported or it wont. Despite power users being able to compile their own drivers into their Linux installation, Joe User is not going to be interested in anything short of plug and play.
Both Vista and Linux will provide a good UI for printing, while Linux tends to lean with extra software for OCR scanning support. On the Vista front, I prefer Windows Fax and Scan over anything else for my scanner, while in the Linux world, Kooka has never let me down.
To Vista's credit, Fax and Scan are provided by default while some Linux distributions give you... XSane by default. Xsane is the single most unusable, ugly, poorly designed application I have ever used on any platform period. So including this as a comparable option to Vista's Windows Fax and Scan is laughable.
Software value provided by default:
Windows is a joke with regard to the software provided out of the box. It's true that Microsoft has improved somewhat with their various Windows marketplace efforts along with Vista, yet this does little good when the user is on a slower Internet connection or unfamiliar with software installation in the first place.
With Linux, in some instances the software is about as smooth as it could be. But many Linux apps are a bit rough around the edges with regard to overall feel and usability.
Vista: This Windows OS provides security features, a Web browser and an email client, among other accessibility applications. Connectivity applications are also well serviced with Vista - from wireless to bluetooth. Vista also provides access to software for video editing/producing, a photo gallery and the infamous sidebar gadgets.
Linux: Lacking the pre-installed video editing, photo gallery and sidebar gadgets, most distributions provide you with a Microsoft compatible office suite, powerful image editor, and MS Exchange compatible PIM (personal information manager).
Winner? Out of the box, I think Linux clearly wins due to its immediate availability of software that people really need right away. Both the PIM and office suite (Open Office) provided with popular distributions such as Ubuntu may happen to be less than glamorous with their outward appearance, but once you get used to them most people participating in a grassroots taste test will find them to be perfectly usable considering the cost zero.
One thing Microsoft knows is that OS familiarity is a zero sum game if the user feels totally comfortable with the interface, its what they expect; users give no points for this. Unfortunately this begun to shift as Microsoft completely lost its focus with Vista, in my opinion.
Vista: For better or worse, Vista has a new workflow, and its menus and overall GUI layout have people either loving or hating it. Settings integration is generally good in Vista, despite the initial hardware compatibility issues early in the release cycle that dwarfed any visual benefit to how the UI was being presented to control hardware.
Today, outside of older PCs and select legacy applications, Vista is a perfectly usable operating system for those looking to upgrade from XP.
Linux: Desktop Linux is difficult to label as "familiar" for a couple of reasons.
1. People migrating from Windows for the first time are obviously going to be unfamiliar with the new interface.
This does not mean someone who has just sat down in front of a Linux desktop for the first time in a Mojave-like experiment would be unable to use the operating system, nor does it mean that they wouldnt be receptive to it. But for someone using XP at home, experiment with Linux is going to feel different.
Winner? If the user is able to get past the fact that GNOME, by default, is rather bland in appearance, I believe that (with a little time spent with it) they might find that Linux using GNOME is vastly more straight forward in application layout and desktop navigation. But again, Im afraid that Vista would win regarding its settings unification. KDE overwhelms with its settings while GNOME's settings are all over the place. Sadly, much of this could have been fixed by installing the Gnome Control Center by default.