For an experienced Windows user wanting to start experimenting with Linux, which distro provides the closest Windows experience? Assuming the use cases enumerated below:

  • Web browsing
  • Working with Office 2003/2007 documents
  • File indexing (desktop search)
  • Basic Sql Server 2005 database administration
  • Media playback(MP3, M4P, WMV, WMA, dvds, etc)
  • Windows Live instant messaging
  • Skype calls/video calls
  • Organizing millions of files
  • FTP/SFTP, SSH, telnet automation
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    Should be community wiki. – ukanth Nov 20 '09 at 8:17
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    Before you you jump into Linux, you should get rid of the "Linux is Windows as a different UI" mindset. Linux != Windows linux.oneandoneis2.org/LNW.htm – Sathyajith Bhat Nov 20 '09 at 14:32
  • If you're used to Windows 7, I'd recommend KDE. It looks a lot like Window 7 (it even has blur!). – user113907 Jan 16 '12 at 18:36

All the tasks you list can be easily achieved on either desktop environment. But few of them will be quite like how you are used to them on Windows.

I find the choice of desktop environment to be a pretty personal thing based on how you work, one of them will simply feel more natural to you than the other. (e.g I can't stand using a KDE box - but other people would hate to use my GNOME desktop on a day to day basis).

IMO you're probably best off trying both from the included Live Desktop environment and seeing which one feels best.

I've included some hints on how to achieve what you ask for below:

  • Web Browsing, Firefox 3 on KDE or Gnome will be most like you are used to.
  • Working with Office 03/07 documents, you will find that OpenOffice will open either - but won't save to 2007 format, this shouldn't be a problem, the native file formats open on up to date copies of Office 2007 anyway, or you can save to the old style .doc formats.
  • File Indexing/Search - Tracker/Beagle on Gnome, not sure on the KDE options.
  • Media Playing - Both Kubuntu and Ubuntu should offer to download codecs for you within one or two clicks
  • Windows Live - KDE will use Kopete, Gnome will use Empathy or Pidgin. All of these should feel quite natural - if feature bare to you coming from a Windows background.
  • Skype can be installed and works quite well, though you may experience some difficulties with PulseAudio - there are work arounds all over the internet though.
  • Organising Millions of Files - Here you will find that the command shell ("Bash") serves you well. If you'd rather avoid this I suggest you use a lightweight file-browser such as Thunar which will be more responsive than Nautilus(Gnome) or Dolphin(KDE).
  • On the FTP front I find GNOME to be light-years ahead of anything I've used - its easy to mount almost any remote resource as a directory using the 'Places' toolbar. On KDE you can probably use Konquror or possibly Dolphin.
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well, they both run the same apps- the difference is in the desktop environment. However UIwise, i found that KDE is more 'windows like' than gnome.

'Basic Sql Server 2005 database administration' and 'Organizing millions of files' i'm unsure about with both though, the latter cause i don't have millions of files

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    Organizing tens or hundreds of thousands of files is hard already, given that today's file systems are not really built for human use :-). Millions will likely be far worse – Joey Nov 20 '09 at 8:29

Mint is a popular rebuild of Ubuntu with a few ticks to make Windows users more comfortable (menu, installer, et al).

I suggest you just go with Mint - I have it on two desktops and am happy.

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Dude, Ubuntu is not a Windows flavor with "slightly different guts". It's a totally different operating system.

If you want to become at least a power user, you shall not make the analogy with Windows. The Windows experience is a double-edged sword for a Linux newbie, it dooms the user and makes him stick to the Windows-way of thinking.

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    It is clear that Linux is not an open source version of Windows. But it's also clear that the closer the new GUI to the user's mental model, the easier will be to start being productive on the new OS. It's not changing religions. It's just trying a different tool and see if it can handle the job well within reasonable expectations. – Leonardo Nov 27 '09 at 7:52
  • I could write a lot of arguments to make a point here. I won't do it. What I said above was the result of an AHA moment that came after years of using Windows and Linux, then more years of using only Linux. There is a chance that it'll happen to you too one day. When it will happen, recall my comment :-) – geek Nov 27 '09 at 14:25
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    The key point is that the OP didn't claim it's "slightly different guts", but that you evidently have assumed so in the past, which led to your epiphany. – Anonymous Jan 26 '10 at 9:12

I personally like my Kubuntu 9.10 setup, but I warn you:

  • either way, you are dealing with something that is NOT Windows.
  • My Kubuntu did not come with a working copy of Firefox. I had to use Konqueror until I found Firefox and downloaded it.
  • If you like Gadgets, go with KDE (Kubuntu). There is a great array of gadgets for your desktop or panel("taskbar")
  • Make sure you have a wired internet connection for starters. Linux Wireless is kind of a pain to set up.
  • Speaking of which, have a good Linux user friend available to help you set it up initially so you can get it the way you want it.

It might help to use a pen-drive form of Ubuntu or Kubuntu to evaluate it while still being able to save your settings. www.pendrivelinux.com

Just some things I learned while trying to set up my computer with Linux.

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Either KDE or Gnome are fine for the purposes you list here - they aren't really competing on features per se, more on the general feel and look of the system.

Kubuntu starts with the panel at the bottom, much like Windows, Gnome starts with it at the top, more like OSX (sort of), but you can move everything anyway.

As a beginner, I'd just look at some screen shots of each and pick based on that - it won't make a massive difference, and it's easy to switch from one to the other once installed anyway.

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  • if you're going purely by UI, i'd go for LXDE or KDE3.x for something close to windows 2k/xp , and kde 4 for vista. – Journeyman Geek Nov 20 '09 at 9:17

Any distro will do with the proper learning or with the help of the wiki/forum/irc ... (I prefer Ubuntu to begin then Archlinux)

Web browsing > Chromium

Working with Office 2003/2007 documents > Abiword + gnumeric vs open office

File indexing (desktop search) > kupfer

Basic Sql Server 2005 database administration > lamp (linux, apache, mysql, php)

Media playback(MP3, M4P, WMV, WMA, dvds, etc) > add the proper codecs then use amarok + vlc

Windows Live instant messaging > emesene

Skype calls/video calls > skype

Organizing millions of files > ext3 file system still better for now

FTP/SFTP, SSH, telnet automation > easy to do but I don't have tried that myself

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KDE/Kubuntu is more like Vista/7. GNOME/Ubutnu is more like Windows XP.

But above all, Linux is NOTHING LIKE Windows. The completely unrelated development philosophy means that the system is fundamentally different, witht the biggest difference being the goal of a Linux installation supporting multiple human users at the same time while Windows tries to enforce a limit of just one so that they can sell more licenses.

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