A few years ago I would have argued that kde was the way to go, for the very simple reason it carried the same obvious set of metaphors as XP - start button, menus forked off, right clicks and the rest. Basically you could get kde to look and behave like XP, and if you could do that your retraining costs were minimal, linux was linux, and it was only a window manager, not an OS shell, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Gnome wasn't a contender as it was too alien, didn't quite work the same way, no start button, etc.
I still believe I was right, but since then a couple of things have happened:
- Gnome has got subtly better - don't ask me how it just has
- Vista isn't the same as XP so retraining costs aren't the same problem
- The growing acceptance of OS X and the costs to change
and gnome has become more pervasive. It's on Ubuntu, which is possibly the most widely used desktop linux distro today. And given that user experience is goverend by the desktop probably it doesn't matter too much to users what the underlying distribution is.
Systems architects, software support people probably care but users don't.
It could be Etch, it could be Ubuntu, it could be Suse Linux. Users don't care. Installing software under either is easy, they all use a repository model, and you need privileges to do it. Again most people don't care as long as they can get web, email and some office prodcutivity going. Wierdos like me like to install kate or kwrite, and perhaps some programming/scripting capability, but that's a minority sport.
And as all these distros come with sensible default software configs they probably don't ever need to install anything else.
So the difference comes down to the installers. SUSE's is nicer. It's graphical and crucially it handles that ever so tricky disk layout question much more nicely than Debian (or Ubuntu). Separate partitions, nice easy ways of fiddling with them if you want and no being dropped into something nasty.
So SUSE is nicer as a user installation experience. Otherwise it could be Etch, could be Ubuntu. All are easy to use and be productive with, and the user experience is essentially identical.
And I'm learing to love Gnome ...