My dad had asked me to set up a spare computer with Linux for him to to use for online banking and such. To keep that separate from Windows. He's been keeping up with the news around Windows 10 and apparently got scared into action by that. I didn't prod him, he asked for this out of the blue. We discussed some alternatives but Linux is the best answer to his worries.
So today I visited my parents with a bunch of Linux distros with me, to demonstrate the various desktop environments (DEs). While I'll pick the distro I wanted him to have the choice as to which DE he liked best. I know many DEs can be customized with themes, docks, panels, and whatsits, but I assumed the default look of one or another would stand out to him as most appealing.
The list of Linux distros & DEs I had with me and the order in which I demonstrated them:
- Ubuntu 14.04 (Unity)
- Linux Mint 17.2 Cinnamon
- Linux Mint 17.2 Xfce
- ElementaryOS Freya (Pantheon)
- Debian 8.1 GNOME
I first showed Ubuntu and he was immediately smitten with the "it doesn't look like Windows" vibe of Unity
Having seen Unity I was informed he wanted something that looked different from Windows so it would be easy to keep the two apart. Next showing Cinnamon and Xfce went completely opposite to my expectations. I went there today assuming the familiarity of these two (like Windows a panel at the bottom, "start" menu at the left, status icons on the right, window list in the middle) would be a big plus for him. But no, these looked too much like Windows and were quickly dismissed. ElementaryOS was up next but the interface became unresponsive so that was also quickly dismissed because, and I quote, "I don't want bugs." Final one I showed was Gnome Shell and he immediately took a liking to it: like Unity it doesn't look like Windows but the user interface has a more refined look and things stay out of your way more. He didn't appreciate for example how the Unity dash stays on the screen all the time while Gnome Shell's dash hides when you close activities overview (I know you can change this, but this was about first impressions with the defaults). After clicking around some more he announced this was what he wanted and when could I please install it
The spare computer needs a few parts replaced so it will take a week or two, but I'm eager for his experiences once he starts using it. All my dad knows is that I do "something" for Linux Mint, and he doesn't know I use Gnome Shell myself. I was careful to not influence his impression during the demonstrations. It's funny to see the things that made me choose Gnome Shell also were things my dad immediately took a liking to.
I didn't carry MATE or KDE with me as I think for a first impression kind of thing we did today more than 5 demonstrations would be too much. MATE I count as in between Cinnamon and Xfce somewhere. While I appreciate what KDE is doing, my dad isn't a power user and I think KDE wouldn't have been a right fit for him.
A surprising conclusion, but I'm happy with the choice he made. I would have been happy to load LMDE 2 Cinnamon (which I had assumed would be the outcome) but instead I think I'll be going with Debian 8.1 GNOME.