Most experienced support techs can alter the way that the Windows desktop looks without giving it a second thought. However, if you’re starting to support Linux desktops on your network, you may quickly find yourself lost when you’re trying to make simple changes in GNOME and KDE.

Microsoft has always done a pretty good job of keeping its interface consistent, even if some people may debate about how intuitive it is. As Windows has progressed from version to version, Microsoft has worked hard to keep many of the common tasks, such as changing desktop and video settings, in the same place, no matter what version of Windows you’re using; the variations are mostly only subtle differences. If you’ve used any version of Windows after Windows 95, it only takes a little bit of clicking to find what’s different in each subsequent version.

Because Linux is open source, there’s no central body that controls the desktop experience. Rather than one GUI, Linux evolved different GUIs based around the standards created in XWindows on UNIX. Dozens of different window managers exist for Linux, but the two most popular are GNOME and KDE. Almost all major Linux distributions include both GUIs, but the default one depends on the distribution you choose. For example, Red Hat has traditionally favored the GNOME GUI, while SuSe has favored KDE. At the same time however, both distributions come with both GUIs, so you can pick your desktop experience. With Windows, you’re stuck with what Microsoft gives you unless you use a third-party program like WindowBlinds.

We’ve put together this handy Windows-to-Linux charticle that lists the common things that you do to alter the Windows appearance, along with the corresponding Linux GNOME and KDE methods. The charticle shows how to do things in Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP versus how to do it in GNOME 2.4 and KDE 3.1 under SuSe Linux 8.2. Exact key combinations and menu settings may vary slightly, depending on the version of Windows that you’re used to and the version of Linux, KDE, and/or GNOME you’re using.