Charge you for using your computer?? Where in blazes did you find out about that?
Seriously, I don't know all the fuzz about Vista being bad, wrong and whatever you say.
Most of the "bad things" (WGA, Validation, DRM, etc.) from "big brother" is their attempt to secure their stuff from being pirated. Their DRM schema is basically a
"I don't trust people because people lie, cheat and lie" statement. If you pay for the stuff you will not have any trouble at all (I haven't got any problem with XP's WGA, Validations, etc.)
Altough I find the protection schemas an annoyance at most I fail to see a problem at all except for the cracking/hacking community. If they manage to subvert the "product protection" schemas we will see a new brand of virus/spyware threat.
I beta tested Vista, I used it with no problems on what you call a lower end computer (by today's standards) and found no problems other than driver issues (on Vista's x64 flavour) plus some bugs that were corrected using WindowsUpdate. I know more than half of the bugs are found when the software is in the wild, but that is no different with any other OS or software.
I also fail to validate the idea of Vista being Windows ME Mark II. WinME failed mainly because
a) Microsoft kept two development branches, with Windows 2000 being a better and safer OS at the time. Both branches (Win 9X and Win NT) merged into XP.
WinME lacked features found on Windows 2000 and had some features that were too early to be accepted by the consummers. Funny thing about the latter is that most of those features are on XP or XP Media Center.
Now, migrating to Linux... I have used Linux for a long time and let me say this, it needs a long time to mature and find a place in desktop/home computers. Linux still needs a computer savvy user (at least) to configure, reconfigure or run some applications, plus the architecture is still lacking on the graphical side (i.e: Even Copying and Pasting text does not work on all the programs)
Is Linux stable, sure.... but it is not easy to use and usability is a top priority to most average Joes using computers and Mr. Average Joe complains about Blue Screens but will complain a lot more with gracefully recover errors prompting him to reconfigure a kernel module.
Installing is still a nightmare and incompatibilities between kernel versions, installed "packages" and "distros" makes software distribution even more difficult.
To me Linux is only a server OS, and a good one at that (I have only one Windows Server plus lots of Linux one, so don't think I'm a Linux hater or a MS staffer), at this time.
Now the myth about encryption.... it only works by encrypting the hard drive (if and only if you chose to do that). If you work on a file and save it to a floppy/usb/network/email attach/whatever it is saved unencrypted. Even if you move the file into an unencrypted partition on the same computer the file is copied (moved) in its unencrypted form. So Mr double spaced rant... your friend is WRONG about that.
What he is not wrong is the protection built in the system, but there is a reason to do that. Vista protects the system drive contents restricting users to use a sandbox called 'My Documents'. The only files you are not entitled to delete are those critical to your Windows User Account. There are a lot of "undeletable" folders that are in fact junctions (which are links to other folders). Junctions exist to allow backward compatibility. With junctions older software can access files/folders in expected locations which do not exist on Vista (For instance the "C:\Documents and Settings" is a juntion to "C:\Users"). An old app trying to get the "Documents and Settings" folder would fail without junctions, instead the OS transparently redirects the request to the proper folder.
About Memory (and other hardware) upgrades... XP and Vista uses some of the hardware information to validate the license. If that information changes too much (By upgrading 3 or more system components at the same time) you have to re-validate your copy. Worst case scenario you'll need to call Microsoft (Mostly toll-free numbers around the world)
About the user protection, the constant prompting to the user is a nag but that can be easily disabled plus some of the developers are seeing oportunities to improve and control the feature... Hey maybe Stardock can create such utility.
Is Vista more secure for the users, yes. Is more secure for Microsoft, yes. Do they want to make money... who doesn't. Do you have a choice... yes, do not upgrade and quit complaining about something YOU DONT HAVE AND HAVENT USED PROPERLY.
Now to get back on topic...Is Vista good for gaming?
DirectX10 is a plus, no doubt. But DX10 needs a massive addoption by the developers and that is in doubt at this time.
Another good feature that should have been #6 on the list is that Vista has native support for all the newest CPU/Multicore architectures and NUMA (Which affects memory access)
Now, let the flaming and trolling begin (or continue)