The good news: I back up my home computer every week in several places. I didn't really lose anything but a few emails.
At about that time, I got an electronic ad from the local Micro Center. So I wandered over, and picked up an Acer Aspire (5733/5733Z/5333 Series) series laptop for $300. Oddly enough, this morning I read an article by a librarian about why this is totally the wrong time to buy a laptop. Maybe ... if you really want the latest and greatest.
The truth is, my needs are simple. My old Netbook is just a LITTLE too slow these days for me, and seems a tad underpowered for the modern software suites. But this new laptop just flies. It also has a big bright screen, and a comfy, well-laid out keyboard. I'm gearing up to write a book, and I wanted something that I could count on, and wouldn't get in my way.
The new Acer came with some subset of Windows 7. It happens that Windows 7 isn't that bad. I slapped a couple of Open Source programs on it (the Chrome browser, the Abiword word processor, the Xmind mind mapper) and Notecase Pro (an outliner I use a lot and for which I have paid for a multi-platform license). Then I went over to the Ubuntu web site and downloaded the Windows Ubuntu installer (wubi for short). It's a program you run that lets you put Ubuntu on your Windows machine from inside Windows. Then you reboot, and choose one platform or the other. If you decide you don't like Ubuntu, you just uninstall it like any other Windows program.
In some ways, it almost doesn't matter which platform I use these days: Windows, iOS, or Linux. I use pretty much the same tools on all of them, mostly open source. Ubuntu takes a little more time to set up than Linux Mint. Just search for "Ubuntu post-installation" to get the steps. Mainly, the issue is installing various codecs for media. It took about 45 minutes, mostly waiting for the commands to fetch and install things. Not hard, just a little tedious. It's worth it: Ubuntu also comes with so much good and free software that a little time is a reasonable trade-off.
I've been spending most of my time in Ubuntu. I don't have to worry about viruses or Trojan Horses. It's speedy, attractive, and works well with my brain and work flow. And I like the fact that I can tote it around with me if I need to.
Meanwhile, I have a compact set of data that I can move pretty much wherever and whenever I need it, all as reasonably well-protected (encrypted) as I can make it. Life in 2012, living on the edge of the cloud.