Great step up from the steam toys and usually somebody local who can show you how to get started.
Positive Product Points
Having read some of the reports on this machine I thought I would give a long-term review. For a newbie looking for that first true espresso experience, I don't think you can go wrong with the Barista. That said, you can certainly spend more money and get better, but for the price and quality its hard to beat.
Negative Product Points
The pressure filter needs to go after you get the hang of the machine. You'll never get a "god shot" from one. 1stLine, Saeco, and others sell after market portafilters for this machine. This machine is a little weak on the steam if you are trying to supply a bunch of friends over lattes.
The Barista was actually my second pump machine. I got it second hand from a friend who had purchased it from *$ at my recommendation. Turned out espresso was not her thing, so I offered to buy it from her. In three years I have had zero problems with the unit.
I do espresso on the weekends and usually just the little woman and I, so I don't push the limits of this machine. When we entertain and I do espresso drinks for folks, things slow down too much for my taste when it comes to steaming milk (few of my friends do straight shots).
For a couple of people doing lattes the machine is great. As I said above, you need to get a non-pressurized portafilter. I could get what looked like creama from 2 month old Millstone supermarket beans! I won't say what it tasted like..... With the non-pressurized filter I can easily tell the difference between just ground homeroast and yesterday ground homeroast.
A note on the pressurized porta-filter. The guts of the thing is a needle-like pin that can break. It is non-repairable and a new pressurized portafilter is/was $70. I recommend you dig the spent grounds out instead of using a knock-box.
*$ gets a lot of bashing but my experience with them has been pretty good. They replaced a year old grinder for me that wasn't cutting the mustard for espresso.