A familiar look?
One of the great bug bears of anybody who demonstrates a modicum of technical ability with computers is the expectation of friends and family that you are automatically on hand to sort out any technical problems that they may encounter.
Sometimes this may go above and beyond what it is reasonable to expect and what may be practical to supply in any ongoing form particularly if the user seems adept at undoing your handiwork or resents attempts to educate them with regards to best usage to ensure a reliable and consistent desktop experience.
When your patience is tested you’ll often find the geeks of this world try to quell mounting support requests by installing linux as an alternative to their failing windows desktop.
This is not as easy as it sounds as users generally hate change. I saw Steve Rubel quoted recently as saying that technology and software easily scales but people do not. This is true of people who get used to a single desktop experience (inevitably Microsoft Windows). Just replacing Windows with Linux will not automatically make an instantly happy computer user or quell support requests unless a degree of familiarity with their previous Windows experience is not maintained.By familiarity I mean look and feel rather than any virus, spyware or reliability experiences.
Throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
And throwing the baby out with the dirty bathwater is, in my experience an absolute last resort after you’ve re installed windows umpteen times to clear infections or to regain a snappier desktop experience.
Moving such users in slow stages can ease the ‘shock of the new’.
This can involved standardising their windows experience with the same applications that they will likely encounter should a linux alternative be worth a try.These days that’s a lot easier as applications like firefox, open office,Thunderbird, picasa and google earth are easily available on linux.
Replacing Microsoft Office with Open Office or one of the various web offices can also be a challenge but if users cannot adapt and have a legal offering of office then it can continue to be used on linux with a little setup of wine or laying down a small fee (well worth the easing off of support calls in my humble opinion) to install crossover office.
I find that applying a theme with the familiar colours and icons (users can balk if they don’t se folders in a familiar colour) works best on a distribution that has a combined bottom panel that operates similar to windows. In my case I prefer either Linux Mint (Gnome edition) or OpenSuSe. You can stack the usual top and lower screen panels on top of each other but at the bottom of the screen with other distributions but users are likely to easily mess up this arrangement.
A quick word about google earth and picasa. These are essentially windows applications that operate under wine which can mean that the font rendering can need some severe tweaking especially when viewed via some modern graphic chips (Nvidia springs to mind). It puzzles me that picasa is installed with an additional menu to specifically adjust the menu fonts whereas google earth is not and launching the latter application can be a shock when the fonts are so small as to be unreadable. This means delving into the Google earth .conf files in order to adjust the menu fonts accordingly.
As a means of reducing friends and family support requests this approach can pay dividends but obviously depends on what software the user is wedded to.A slow wean off proprietary software may prepare the ground for a later linux desktop deployment.
Business is business
In the business world it’s easier to keep legacy windows applications on a linux desktop via virtualization of a thin client server arrangement which can pay dividends for office desktop uptime in the right environment.
Resources: icon theme , wallpaper , eXperience theme