Choice is a wonderful thing. Not everyone wants the same thing, after all. Freedom of choice means the most accessible, best-suited or cheapest products tend to thrive, while the unsuitable or unsupportably expensive simply fade away.

Walk around a typical computer shop, however, and the choice factor is less in evidence. While there may be a line of PCs and laptops of loosely different shapes and sizes, the operating system (OS), which largely dictates the user experience, tends to be the same everywhere you look.

While this conformity of interface should make for an easier time when moving from one computer to another - from an office terminal to your home machine, say - it doesn't help if the OS isn't fit for the purpose you need. Whether that need is entertainment, creativity, accountancy or just communication with the rest of the world.

There are choices out there, of course, but you have to make a conscious decision to step outside the norm and embrace the different. One choice is to use an OS from the Linux family. These are typically free to acquire, powerful in scope, and a pain in the behind to install and set up.

Aside from its cost, security and stability, Linux has the attraction of lower system requirements, initially making it seem like the best OS to run low-power netbooks. Then we heard stories that retailers were receiving many returns on these cheap little Linux laptops, with some pointing to the unfamiliar interface as a stumbling point for a confused public.

Many Linux distributions, probably in a bid to make themselves easier to adapt to after years of using the de-facto Windows, closely follow the look and feel of the dominant OS. That may not be such a great plan, however, if that system is a poor copy of someone else's in the first place.

Novell has done more than make its Suse Linux look familiar - it's even integrated services that'll make it play nicer with typical office IT infrastructure. We're always looking for an OS that just works without getting too funky with the command-line Terminal, so we gave Novell's Suse Linux a go.

We also took a look at three mini desktop PCs - read our Asus Eee Box B204, Linutop 2 and Apple Mac mini (Early 2009) reviews - each equipped with the three principal OSes on the market today. And we can't help but smile when hardware and software dovetail together to produce a user experience that takes the pain out of computing.