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Aside from certain specialist distros they're mostly all good for desktop use. What matters is whether you want bleeding edge software, rock-solid stability, or a compromise between the two. And are you wanting to really get under the hood and learn Linux, or do you want something that will just work and never requires tinkering?
All that aside, I usually recommend Mint as a starter distro. Its fairly stable, fairly up-to-date, and has a lot of community support. If you're more technically oriented, you might want to jump straight in with Slackware or Gentoo, maybe.
dont want to sound like a parrot but a straight linux comparison to modern windows versions woud be 'ready to run' linux distros such as mint,mandriva and ubuntu/xubuntu/kubuntu,ubuntu is the least bloated of those and if are prepared to accept a less smooth and jazzy look;xubuntu is a perfect comprimise with less lag.
because have asked for a windows comparison,woud personaly recommend against using significantly configureable distros,ones that can take a bit of command line work to get fully working,ones that dont have a easy view GUI install,eg-gentoo,slackware,arch...to a lesser extent,fedora,debian,backtrack etc.
if have got a fairly decent computer spec in terms of memory and cpu as well as a decent broadband connection which is not limited on bandwith, it is worth installing a virtual machine such as virtualbox, downloading a few different distros to find a favourite but also to give added confidence with learning the trade as any screw ups inside a VM does not affect the rest of the hard disk.
it is also a good option for powerful netbooks as it does not require a USB stick or a dvd drive.
the only issue is it can actualy be harder to setup properly under a VM.
Last edited by Aut/Geek; 01-21-2012 at 07:09 AM.
Reason: bad sectors in memory-forgot a word
If by "best" you mean one whose interface is similar to Windows, Mint is likely your best bet. http://linuxmint.com/
Underneath the desktop interface and surface appearances, there is nothing Windows-like about any Linux.
Frankly, I think it preferable to start out by thinking "Linux is not Windows; it's not harder, it's just different"; accepting that it is different and there will be a learning curve will make learning to use Linux easier. There's lots of help here and elsewhere.
I think you'll feel the most comfortable with Xubuntu to start off with. It has a more traditional setup to it compared to other distros that use Kde or Gnome as a default desktop. Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop.
Distribution: Mepis and Fedora, also Mandrake and SuSE PC-BSD Mint Solaris 11 express
I like Mint a lot. In fact I'm using it right now. However, I don't like the Gnome Unity desktop much. KDE is probably most like the 7 or Vista desktop visually. It is a full featured environment. LXDE resembles XP a little bit more then Vista, but its also a light weight desktop. Therefore it doesn't have quite as many bells and whistles as KDE.
I'd go with Mint, but use something other then the default with Unity. Just go to the website and see what you would like to try as a live disc first. Kubuntu is also a decent choice. I'm not as impressed with Ubuntu as some other friendly distros. Its not like it doesn't work, just isn't quite as well laid out somehow.
Fedora also has quite a few spins, but you'll have to add missing codecs once you install it. You will also need extra repositories as well. The upside is that you can easily make a secured partition with crypto-luks using the gui installer. This is roughly the same idea as bit locker for M$ Ultimate or Enterprise. Its free as well.
If you want something friendly but a little different, try PC-BSD. Isotope 9 is out and not in beta or release candidate anymore. You can choose from a variety of the very same desktops as well as encrypting your partition in either UFS or ZFS. PC-BSD doesn't have quite as much hardware support, but its multimedia out of the box has a lot more codecs then some of linux distros. BSD is regarded as being slightly more stable then Linux. Be aware that UNIX and Linux don't mount each other's filesystems very well. Therefore if you are going back and forth between them, use NTFS or FAT on your backup drive or backup to a NAS on your network. PC-BSD is also more secure then Mint or some of the other Linux distros which allow you to get root access rights with sudo or by entering the user password to become root to install things. Isotope does still have sudo in some form, however.