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|Mark Hinkle, vice president and COO, Win4Lin Inc.|
Making a single recommendation for an easy-to-use version of Linux is not as easy a proposition as it may sound. There are a large number of good choices. I will recommend some that I have found to be useful from first-hand experience. Assuming that you are really looking for desktop operating systems, here are the solutions I would recommend:
SimplyMEPIS is a relatively new Linux distribution that focuses on ease of use and narrowing the number of choices for applications so that the user need not wade through an overwhelming number Web browsers, e-mail clients and other applications. With MEPIS you can register your copies of the operating system for premium downloads or download the operating system without support for free. Support can be had from the fanatical fan base of Mepis lovers at www.mepislovers.com.
Xandros has been racking up awards for their desktop Linux product, and rightly so. It's easy to use and comes with company backing to provide support. Their subscription-based Xandros Networks is an update service and software warehouse that makes installation for less skilled Linux users relatively painless.
Linspire is one of the easiest Linux distributions to use and especially by virtue of their one-click software installation through their Click-N-Run Warehouse. Linspire is set to release their latest version in late February or early March 2005, which should mark an even greater degree of usability. Linspire has done a good job of addressing the home user market by leveraging open source technologies to develop similar programs to those that have become popular on Linux. For example, Lsongs is very similar to the popular Apple iTunes music jukebox program. Lphotos is a very user-friendly photo manipulation program that may appeal to the home photographer.
Mandrakesoft has perhaps held the title for easy-to-use desktop Linux software for as long as anyone. Their distribution offers good hardware support and since you already know what your hardware is, you might want to check out their level of support for it in the MandrakeSoft Hardware Database. They offer a number of bundled software packages with complimentary software oriented at specific types of users.
I feel that you will be pleased with any of the above options, but a quick review of their service offerings is probably going to be the deciding factor in your case.
For more information, check out our Learning Guide: Linux basics for Windows pros.