This article will be divided into 2 main parts. The first will be about the best desktop environments for Windows users, and the second will be about the best distributions for Windows users. For new users, one term that I will be using throughout this article is Linux kernel, the Linux kernel is the base operating system. It is the portion of the operating system that communicates directly with the hardware of the computer. Also in the kernel is the base commands used by the system, and the bash shell which is the command-line interface for Linux.
What Are Desktop Environments?
To start, let me briefly explain what a desktop environment is. Simply put: a desktop environment is how the system looks, the windows, how you access programs, how you navigate through the system. Overall, it’s the look and feel of the operating system. A Linux Distribution is simply the Linux kernel with a particular Desktop Environment put on top, with a few other programs for getting updates, and functionality put in.
Intro to Distribution Families
There are four different types of distributions also known as distribution families. The big three are Debian, Fedora, and Arch. The last is really not a distribution like the others, it is known as Vanilla Linux.
Before I begin with the best Desktop Environments let me take a little time to explain the different distribution families. First is Debian, this is known as the most stable distribution as it uses the last known rock-solid stable kernel version. Debian also has a reputation of being old, as the programs are often the earliest versions of the program and not updated for a long while. The distributions known as Debian based distributions typically take one of two strategies. Long term release, which are systems that upgrade every 2 years to the latest stable kernel at that time, or a 6-month release option. Some, like Ubuntu, use both types, so you have a long term release and also a 6-month release schedule.
The second Family is Fedora, this family is the only one that has the least amount of distributions in it. This is your Red Hat and Suse systems. Typically these are distributed out to companies as servers and or desktop systems. Fedora systems typically only use the GNOME desktop environment and as a result is not included in my list even though other desktop environments can be installed on these type systems. Fedora uses a 6-month upgrade schedule.
The Third Family is Arch. Arch systems have the reputation as the most unstable Linux systems, and also the hardest to understand. Arch has a rolling release upgrade schedule, this means that whenever a new version of a program, or the Linux kernel, including beta versions, these will be upgraded. This of course means that you will always have an up to date system, and you will always have the latest and greatest version of programs. This also means that since it is the latest versions it may also have bugs in these programs which can and often has caused the system to crash. Arch unlike the others allows you to install any and all desktop environments out there.
The last family, which is really not a family is known as Vanilla Linux. This is the Linux kernel only. With this, you can add on to it the desktop environment of your choice, the package manager of your choice, and the login manager of your choice. This type of system allows people to make their own personal customized system. For this reason, this Family will not be listed as part of the recommendations for the obvious reason that it is not for the average user and not for people coming over to Linux
Best Desktop Environments for Windows Users
When looking at the best Desktop Environments for Windows users, it boils down to Cinnamon, KDE, Deepin, LXQT, and XFCE.
First on this list is the Cinnamon desktop environment which was created by the Linux Mint team. As far as this environment is concerned, several people feel that it has the best match to how the work and flow of Windows feels to users. It has a menu similar to the start menu on Windows. The menu is laid out in a fashion that reminds a lot of people of how it was laid out back with Windows 95 through Windows 7. It uses the familiar computer to access the drives and files on the computer. It has a recognizable trash can for deleting files.
The next environment is KDE. KDE can be customized to an extreme amount, it also has a layout with the menu bar that is similar to Windows. The default menu which takes place of the start menu is laid out in a similar manner to windows. The downside of it is that since it can be customized so much the settings can be overwhelming to new users.
Deepin is a desktop environment that was created in China, the menu is very similar to windows, the settings are separated in easy simple ways, it also uses the computer as the way to access files and disks on the system. However, the rest of the environment is something new entirely.
LXQT and XFCE
Best Distros for Windows Users – Top Recommendations
The Best Distribution for Linux users will be LinuxFX. This is a Distribution which is based upon Ubuntu. It uses a modified version of the Cinnamon desktop environment. It looks as identical as possible to Windows 10, from the startup, shutdown, login screen, desktop layout, basically everything is identical except for the menu itself.
Linux Mint – Cinnamon
The second would be Linux Mint using the Cinnamon desktop environment, which is mentioned above.
Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix
The third would be Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix, this is a new distribution which seeks to become an official distro which uses Ubuntu as a base and uses the Cinnamon desktop environment.
Next will be KDE Plasma, this is a Debian based distribution created by the team that created the KDE environment.
The next distribution on this list is Kubuntu, this is a version of Ubuntu that runs the KDE desktop environment.
The next one after Kubuntu is UbuntuDDE. This is also a new distribution using Ubuntu as a base that is seeking to become an official Ubuntu distribution. This distribution uses the Deepin desktop environment which has been modified to remove the tracking issues, language issues, and other minor changes that make it a perfect fit for users.
After these distributions I will introduce Manjaro, this is an Arch-based distribution which aims to be a user-friendly Arch distribution. Being Arch-based you can install any desktop environment you want on it. I would recommend caution when choosing this type of system.
Lubuntu is the next one on the list. It is the version of Ubuntu that uses the LXQT environment. Although it is designed for lower end systems, it can also be used on higher spec machines. It is modern enough to be a great contender to the rest of the systems, and it can also be used to breathe new life into older computer hardware. The final distribution will be Xubuntu. As anyone could have guessed this uses the XFCE desktop environment. The issue with this one, and the reason why its the last on the list is because its made for low end systems, but it also has the reputation for looking old, where it can be customized to look more like a modern operating environment, that takes more time than new users would want to spend getting it to looking the way they want to.
Conclusion on The Best Linux Distros for Windows Users
In conclusion, I will have to say this for new users to Linux, rather you are coming from Windows like this article is made for, or coming over from Mac. The best suggestion I can make is to get hold of several Environments, test them out, install them into a virtual machine, play around with it, see which one best matches your work flow. There is no need to rush and choose one. The great thing also with Linux is that it is easy to change desktop environments, after you choose the system you want, you can change from one environment to another very simply.