4 of the Best Linux Distros for Windows Users

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For the past year Microsoft has offered free upgrades to their latest operating system, Windows 10. This was mainly due to the fact that Windows 8 and 8.1 were poorly received, especially when compared to Windows 7. Unfortunately the free upgrade period has passed, so if you want to give Windows 10 a try, you’ll have to dig into your wallet to do it. If your faith in the tech giant has waned over the years, you’re not alone. The latest versions of Windows have all been heavily criticized, proving that they have been a far cry from the world dominance of Windows XP.

If you’re one of the many people turned off by the latest iterations of Windows, the jump to Linux might look very appealing. Unfortunately, a new OS often comes with a steep learning curve. Windows, with the exception of the fumble that was 8, has more or less looked and behaved the same for years. Having to re-learn everything can be a daunting task, one that could pressure you into staying with Windows forever.

However, you do have options. There are many different distributions of Linux out there, with some aiming to replicate the look and feel of Windows. The goal of this is to make transitioning relatively painless. With Linux boasting improved hardware support, long term stability and a wider range of software applications, there is no better time to try it out!

The team behind Zorin have one major goal: provide Windows users with a smooth and easy transition to Linux. Screenshots of the Zorin OS in action is proof that Zorin takes major design cues from Microsoft. With a Zorin-branded Start button, a familiar Start menu and tiled windows inside the taskbar, Windows users will feel right at home.

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While Zorin has the familiar Windows 7-esque desktop by default, the OS has a customizable user interface that they’ve dubbed the “look changer.” This allows users to change the desktop to look and behave like Windows 7, XP or GNOME in the free version, while the premium version includes Windows 2000, Unity and OS X.

Robolinux is an interesting distro that is gunning for Windows users in a big way. Most folks are aware that Linux users can run Windows programs in a virtual machine like WINE. If you’re migrating to Linux from Windows and want to bring all of your programs, files and settings with you, there wasn’t an easy option. Cue Robolinux.

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Robolinux includes Stealth VM, a virtual machine that they claim can run any Windows program without any lag. In addition, Robolinux has a tool that allows you to clone your entire Windows C drive. This means that you can migrate all of your pre-existing programs and data. While Robolinux is free, the developer is asking for donations for the cloning tool.

A number of Linux distros seek to emulate the look and feel of Windows with varying results, but ChaletOS hits the nail on the head. Featuring a very familiar look that will make Windows users feel right at home, ChaletOS boasts a Start button and desktop icons.

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The beautiful ChaletOS interface looks and behaves so much like Windows, that at first glance most will assume it actually is Windows. The only issue with ChaletOS is that it does not come bundled with an Office suite. Most Linux distros come with LibreOffice which offers basic functionality like word processing, spreadsheet and slideshow capabilities. While one can install their Office suite of choice, the decision to omit one is curious.

One of the most popular distros around, Linux Mint is stable and has a large community of users behind it. As such, users have access to lots of troubleshooting documentation, something Windows users will greatly appreciate.

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Since Linux Mint is based off of Ubuntu, it is privy to the same security updates and software options. Mint also comes in four different editions: Cinnamon, MATE, Xfce and KDE. All of these graphical desktops feature a similar layout to Windows, with a familiar task bar and start menu. In short, Linux Mint offers the benefits of Ubuntu while maintaining a familiar user experience.

One of the best things about Linux is that you can try each operating system before you install. Simply burn a Live CD or USB and configure your machine to boot from it. If you’ve been on the fence about Windows, try one of these out.

Image credit: Tux Graffiti on Laptop

20 comments

  1. Of the above, I’ve used Mint (XFCE) exclusively for a year, while I’ve tested Zorin on a LiveUSB. Mint is still the best of the bunch with its stability, features, active development, and software maturity. If I needed to replace Windows 10 (which is surprisingly good), I probably will go back to Mint, or try Lubuntu.

    ChaletOS looks promising as well. I’ll try it on a USB stick first.

  2. I think the Linux version which is most suitable for windows users is Linux Mint KDE. I’m using the cinnamon version which is based on GTK+, instead of Qt, but for a windows user, the KDE version is more appropriate.
    For those stuck with Microsoft, never mind, the next version of windows will be a Lindows OneSystem or OneOS or OneXYZ or ManyAds or something like that.

  3. If we are considering the default KDE Plasma look to be Windows-esque (as the author considers Mint KDE to be so in point four) the KDE Neon would also be a good option as well. It is built on whatever will be the most current Ubuntu LTS version (currently 16.04) for stability and features newer versions of KDE Plasma/applications than even Kubuntu with the backports ppa. So it would look close enough to Windows so that the interface won’t need people to sort through too many unfamiliar menus and it is stable enough so that it won’t constantly break on newbies who know very little about how to troubleshoot Linux problems or computer problems i n general. Combine with the fact that once people start getting up to speed with how KDE works than they can start to customise the interface to suit their needs/wants. Also I agree with Dan when he says that Windows 10 is actually quite good. It’s still Windows so it suffers from a lack of customisation that I prefer as well as Windows inherent security issues, however from an interface standpoint I must say that Windows 10 is doing something right. I find that Microsoft has combined Windows 7 and 8 in a way that is both visually appealing and not totally illogical.

  4. You only have 3 Linux distros since Zorin and Mint are just rewrites of Ubuntu. On the plus side, you did not list 4 Ubuntu-based distros as many other pundits usually do.

  5. I have been using Linux since 2003 / 2004 and I have run the gamut from Fedora (which is my main OS) all the way through to Gentoo. I have been the go to person in my family for years as the IT guy. I’ve been working in IT since 1999. I’ve helped quite a few people make the switch to Linux, but in EVERY instance, where I’ve given them the KDE desktop? they’ve complained about it being too “hard” to work with. And after trying to use it for almost a year, I can understand their frustrations. And while no version of Linux will be as “dumbed down” as the Windows sheeple are used to, I find KDE makes itself complicated for no apparent reason. I’m just now hearing about the KDE Neon, and will have to check it out, but for all the other instances of KDE that I’ve seen it just seems that there’s an over abundance of options that most people (correction that the “average user”!) might not ever want or need. When you right-click on the empty desktop, most OS’es will give you some options that are the most widely used….when you do that in KDE you get a menu with so many options that it’s sometimes hard (for a newbie at least) to find it. or they’re not sure of which option to use etc. Personally I feel that MATE and Cinnamon are the most Windows-ish of them all, regardless of distro….more so MATE then even Cinnamon which went for a more Windows 7 approach as opposed to MATE’s almost WIndows XP trappings. either way….as long a its Linux that they decide to run, on their systems, well then….that’s all that really matters

    • “And after trying to use it (KDE) for almost a year, I can understand their frustrations. ”
      It all depends on what you are used to. :-) The way you feel about KDE, I feel about GNOME, Mate, Cinnamon, etc. I find them to be clumsy and awkward to use.

      I think that the biggest problem for the apocryphal “average user” switching from Windows to Linux is expecting Linux to act like Windows. They want to use a new O/S but, at the same time, be able to perform the same actions as on the old one. When switching O/Ss one needs to let go of old habits.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more! But that in itself is the problem a lot of Windows users have when you show them anything that ISN’T Windows! They want their “.exe’s” they want their Adobe Acrobat Reader, they want their Notepad, and their 60 day trial of Microsoft Office. And even if you’re trying to show them a different way….sometimes the only way to get them over the loss of their Windows system is to “ease” them into Open source, by giving them something that’s as close to it as possible. Some?…can use MATE, Cinnamon for years and not want to go any further, others will actually call you up after you’ve installed Linux on their system…..and after they’ve been using it a while and as you about these things called “desktop environments” and the various ones that exist. One guy I helped went from Unity?…to OpenBox!….so its not impossible for people to come from one OS to another and to make drastic changes , but the reality is, that familiarity can help most make the transition smoothly and with as little problems as possible.

  6. I have used Zorin for years, and would no recommend it to a Windows user coming to Linux. It has changed, it is to locked down and not customizable enough. I would recommend almost any OS with a Mate Desktop and a Debian derivative or PC Linux Mate if you like RPM packages. You can make it look as Windoze as you want. Ubuntu Mate would be a great start. If you set Debian Mate up for them that would work too, but would be a bit hard for a newbie to do themselves. I like Point Mate too, but that distro seems almost dead already. There has not been a post on the forum for months.

  7. Some minor points I feel need addressing:

    The next version of ZorinOS uses a much more Win10-ish look than previously available.

    While I have not used the StealthVM or Robolinux, I am pretty sure WINE is not a virtual machine.

    If you think the exclusion of an office suite is an odd choice for an OS you need to install yourself, you may have never installed a boxed copy of Windows either. I have not seen one that includes MS Office off the shelf unless specifically bundled or as trial-ware.

  8. “Most Linux distros come with LibreOffice which offers basic functionality like word processing, spreadsheet and slideshow capabilities.”
    Let’s not be so dismissive of LibreOffice. The default install of LibreOffice install also includes a database, a drawing and a math equation module, modules which M$ charges extra for. And let’s not forget that Microsoft Office IS NOT installed by default during a Windows install. One must pay dearly even for the basic word processor/spreadsheet/slideshow bundle.

    Granted that LibreOffice is missing some of the esoteric features of MS Office but it suffices for the vast majority of the apocryphal “average” computer users

    • Hi Dragonmouth. You seem pretty knowledgeable with Linux and because of you you convinced me to use a Linux distro. I am now using kubuntu and I’m amazed at how well it works. However I am having 2 problems and nothing listed online has helped. The first problem is getting adobe flash or pepperflash to work in the chromium browser. The other problem is getting my VPN to work. It connects just fine, but I can’t access webpages on any web browser while in Kubuntu. However off the VPN it works great. Any advice how to fix these 2 issues? Other then that you got me sold on Linux and ready to say bye bye to windows forever

      • “you convinced me to use a Linux distro”
        I am happy that you have found Linux to be usable, although none of the *buntus would have been my recommendation. But that is a personal preference. Good luck with your choice.

        I guess I’m not as knowledgeable with Linux as you think because I cannot help you solve your 2 problems. Even though I know I should, I do not use a VPN. Firefox on PCLinuxOS gives me default access to Flash.

        • I actually thought of that idea as well about using Firefox because it does have a built in flash on it. However Firefox doesn’t have all the extensions that I use on Chrome so because of that it’s basically a useless browser for me. And believe it or not at first what I needed to access on the VPN it worked on Firefox at first and then the VPN stopped letting me access the Internet. And you could’ve fooled me for not having much knowledge with Linux. And by the way you said you didn’t like the Buntu distros. Why is that?

      • Chromium browser has an issue with the pepperflash plugin. You will be better off using Chrome, if you really need to access Flash content. As for the VPN, it could be the service provider issue. Try to connect to another location, or try another VPN service.

        • The problem with Chrome I’ve found is that it isn’t as fast as Chromium is for me. And I’m working with my VPN provider now. Right now I’m using “vpnreactor.com” If I can’t get it to work do you have a recommendation of a good VPN service that will work in Kubuntu that won’t cost me a fortune to have?

  9. @Fadedrobin I actually did try Opera first and I couldn’t get it to sync or log me in to my account that I had registered from Windows so I actually tried Chrome and discovered that Chrome in Linux actually works faster then Chrome in Windows works. And since I made this comment I switched to Ubuntu 16.04 from Kubuntu and like it much better, and also was able to make my VPN work in Ubuntu where I had a real hard time with it in Kubuntu

  10. I find zorin to be a more friendly operating system than mint,

    i had mint installed and spent hours on just installing the option to toggle between languages with alt-shift,

    that was pretty easy with zorin.

    robolinux sounds very interesting.

  11. I’m a Mint user and have tried all the flavors. The one I would not recommend to Windows users is KDE. It’s like chasing a white rabbit into a hole in the ground. I’ve been a Linux user since 2008, and I still can’t get used to KDE. I’m attracted to it, but it repels me at the same time.

  12. Recently I was searching for a Window 3 download. It was the best MS system for non techies. Prior to WIN 3 I was a DOS user and did a lot of my degree with DOS. Now that they are discontinuing support for Win 7, kind of stupid for MS since there are still so many people using 7, I have been researching LINUX.
    Thank you for all of the great information.

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