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Some Windows programs will run under WINE, but not many. For the programs you've mentioned there are Linux-native substitutes which work just as well (or even better).
As a relative beginner I found SuSE best. Coming from Windows you'll find its setup and configuration tools very simple to use.
I believe most if not all distros come with a firewall, and Linux itself is more secure than Windows from the start. Viruses etc. are usually programmed with the majority of PCs in mind (and therefore Windows), using Windows-specific weaknesses Linux simply doesn't share. I'm told that there is no working Linux virus at all. Unless you're actually working as root all the time a virus couldn't even do much harm if there was one.
1) Mandrake, SuSE or RedHat. They're popular and easy.
2) You can run some programs using wine, but they'll be very slow (emulation). It's much better to use replacements. Kmail or Evolution for Outlook (they're much more secure), Xine or Mplayer for Media Player, Mozilla, Firefox or Opera for IE. There's good choice.
3) Firewall comes in most distros (but a tool to write your own, iptables, is in all). You don't need an antivirus.
So all of my micro$*&@ office programs would be basically of no use to me?? Are the office products with linux rated well?? I really dont mean to sound ignorant,, but this is my first stop in my persuit of ditching microsoft.
I have been running Mandrake 9.1 for some time - and I've come to the conclusion that the only reason I am dual-booting is the games!
I keep it simple - Mandrake for work and WinXP for fun.
I run the latest version of the Mozilla browser, Ximian Evolution for e-mail/calendar/contact management, Kaboodle as media player and Gaim for instant messaging and Open Office as a replacement for Word, Excel and PowerPoint (.ppt only in principle. I am opposed to the time-wasting aspect of presentation programs). K3B is an excellent CD-burning program.
Migrating is easy with Mandrake. It reads a Windows Fat/NTFS partition by default, so moving documents, music and video files is rather easy, as these can be copied directly to the Linux partition.