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In Search of the Best Linux for Windows Refugees

Much as we here in the Linux community may wish that everyone could cut their proverbial computing “teeth” on our favorite operating system, the fact remains that the majority of the world starts off on Windows.

That, after all, is why the tragedy of “Microsoft Trained Brain Syndrome” has persisted all these years.

It only stands to reason, then, that growing the ranks of Linux users will depend in large part on making Windows users as comfortable as possible during their transition to the free and open source way of life.

Which distro can accomplish that best? That’s been just the question on many bloggers’ tongues over the past week or so.

‘These People Hate and Fear Change’

“I am trying to convince a number of people to give Linux a chance, arguing that it has come a long way on the road of consumer usability,” wrote Quantus347 in an “Ask Slashdot” question recently. “Can you, oh Wise Ones of Slashdot, recommend a Linux setup that will be as similar as possible to a Windows environment (Windows 7 or XP).

“These people hate and fear change, and so will latch onto nearly any noticeable differences, so I’m thinking in terms of both front end functionality and the look of the interface,” Quantus347 added. “It would also be very important for them to have to go to the command line as little as possible during daily use (meaning as close to never as can be managed).”

Did the rambunctious Slashdot masses have any advice to offer? You bet your bash script they did. Close to 500 comments later, the conversation is showing no signs of slowing down in the blogosphere’s many bars, grills and watering holes.

Fueled by more than a few Tequila Tux cocktails along the way, Linux Girl took it upon herself to gather a survey of opinions at each and every gathering spot.

‘They Told Them It Was the New Windows’

“If you want to make the transition easy for Windows users, you have to be talking about KDE,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien told Linux Girl down at the G+ Grill.

In fact, “there was even a great video a couple of years ago from ZDNet Australia where they showed people the new KDE and told them it was the new Windows,” O’Brien recalled. “Not only did folks believe it, but they said it was a much improved Windows.

“Personally, I’d go with Kubuntu, but OpenSUSE with KDE would be a good choice as well,” he suggested. “Heck, Linux Mint with KDE was just released. You probably can’t go wrong with any of them.”

‘I’d Go One of Two Ways’

Indeed, “this doesn’t have just one answer,” agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants.

“If I were to break it down into what I believe is the simplest terms possible, I’d go one of two ways,” Linux Rants explained. “The first way: familiarity.

“If the person transitioning is familiar with Windows 7 and would feel more comfortable in a DE similar to Windows 7, I’d suggest something like Zorin,” he said. “It’s designed to look and feel like Windows 7, and it would definitely make a Windows 7 user feel more comfortable.”

On the other hand, “it’s also possible that Zorin’s very Windows 7-like appearance would make the differences between Windows 7 and Zorin feel more pronounced,” Linux Rants pointed out. “It may be better to just go all out and give them a new environment to work from.

“In that case, I’d suggest Ubuntu,” he offered. “Its differences from a standard Windows 7 environment are pronounced, and while an individual familiar with Windows 7 would obviously know that they weren’t in Kansas anymore, that may make them less frustrated by little differences than they would be if they were caught unawares.”

‘You Can’t Assume Users Are Homogenous’

Down at the blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge, Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, had a similar perspective.

“There probably is not a single Linux setup that is best here,” Travers told Linux Girl. “You really have to start by getting to know the user and what the specific user needs, and build a setup with that in mind. Once you have the needs figured out, you can start to talk about solutions.”

It’s also important to keep in mind, however, “that Windows has a significant majority of a number of interesting markets, so you can’t assume the users are all homogenous,” Travers pointed out. “A software developer will have different needs than a SOHO user, and these will have different needs than a corporate accountant.”

So, “once you get to know the user, it’s a good idea to transition first to open source apps on Windows and find out what works best,” he concluded. “This way it is easy to switch out the underlying OS without having to learn everything at once.”

‘I Recommend XFCE4’

Blogger Robert Pogson had a specific suggestion.

“The best GNU/Linux for escapees from Wintel will have a window manager, windows, widgets, menus and icons like XFCE4, so I recommend XFCE4,” Pogson said. “Throw in LibreOffice and Firefox, and most users will be comfortable in a few minutes.”

Similarly, “XFCE + Wicd (yes it’s STILL better than NetworkManager for WiFi),” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. “Add LibreOffice and then throw in a good browser like Firefox or Chrome and you have a decent system anyone could get work done on.”

‘Probably Vector Linux’

Last but not least, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet had yet a different view.

“Sadly the best distro for that job is dead, which was Xandros, thanks to it having a ‘behave like Windows’ option on setup along with built in crossover for those ‘must have’ Windows apps,” hairyfeet pointed out.

“But if I had to switch a Windows user today? Probably Vector Linux,” he added. “Its KDE classic is the most ‘Windows like’ as far as UI goes, and it’s not using bleeding edge software, which is the curse of far too many distros. Its default desktop is nice and simple, no extra bling bling.”

And for those who “truly want a ‘hassle free, it just works’ Linux? Get an Android pad like the Asus Transformer and call it a day,” hairyfeet advised. “No headaches, no CLI, no apt getting anything, just plug and play easy peasy. Just poke it and off you go.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

1 Comment

  • There are many distros to start with Linux. I myself tried Xandros, PC Linux, Mint, Lubuntu and Zorin. I found Zorin by far the easiest. Not that the others are not good, they are good. One of the best things about Linux is you can chose a distro that is right for you, rather than a one fits all. There are distos I would never recommend to someone new, like Slackware, they would be discouraged and go right back to windows. Level of computer literacy, hardware and OS expectations all figure in which OS is best for anyone.

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