It is an interesting phenomena, but it's pretty easy to explain: the barrier for an older person is "using a computer". The barrier for a younger person is "using linux". The older person doesn't know or care about the operating system - they are going to use the computer (or not) for very specific things. The younger person, who is probably more of a power user, is going to be more "enmeshed" with the details of the OS, and find it harder to give up certain things.
Heck, the last time Windows was my main OS was in 2007 or so, and I still think in terms of "Alt-Tab" with the Command button replacing Alt (since I'm in OSX). (And the never-disappearing menu bar, and the inability to tab between windows, and the fact that the maximize button is broken, still bugs me).
It's funny; ten years ago the explanation was exactly the opposite. "Maybe young people can pick up Linux, but there's no way my grandma could ever figure it out." I'm inclined to believe that both are post hoc rationalizations of a phenomenon whose true cause is entirely unrelated.
Because ten years ago you had to partition your HDD with fdisk and configure WiFi network by editing /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf.
I'm pretty sure none of the nontechnical users mentioned here would be willing to do that.
Ubuntu moved lots of configuration to the GUI, making it easily discoverable and usable for people who don't already know where to look for things. Ubuntu may be sucky, buggy and inflexible, but it's much easier to use than old-style GNU/Linux.
Not really. There were several consumer-friendly Linux distributions at that time that automated dual-boot and provided GUIs for configuration, including Mandrake/Mandriva, Lindows/Linspire, etc., and WPA didn't really exist.
You're right. I'm sure it's no dumb luck Microsoft and Apple try to get their products into classrooms. Getting those young minds used to their designs and specific ways of doing things, setting them as lifetime customers. Who here doesn't have a handful of things they like simply because they have a childhood fondness of them?
Since mountain lion added full screen mode I haven't had a single window maximized, what I do use though is bettertouchtool with window snapping enabled. It's pretty much windows 7's snapping feature that allows you to drag a window to the side to snap to that half of the screen, works really well.