GOAL: To move to linux as a permanent desktop OS replacement for Windows XP.
Woot! That is what we are here for.
Requirements: If this is going to work for me then I will need to be able to do everything I can do now on my Windows machine. Gaming, productivity, photo editing, etc. And while I'm happy to geek out and I'm willing to spend some time rolling my own kernal and tweaking start-up and config files, etc, managing the OS can not be a chore, nor can it require constant hand-holding to maintain in a secure and stable state. MS offers automatic updates and security patches for Windows (however reviled their speed of response may be in some quarters), I require that same level of service from any replacement OS.
Any of the more popular distros do this for you. Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo .. they all have automatic patch releases and you can configure your OS to download and install them automatically, or retain complete control over the process, or a combination of the two. Just like Windows.
Windows has, since 98SE, treated me to maybe a half dozen BSOD, I require that same level of stability from a replacement OS.
I can't remember the last time that I had my OS freeze on me to the point of requiring a reboot (the linux equivalent of a BSOD .. usually a 'kernel panic'). No worries here!
And while I have never had a Windows installation get a virus or get hacked, even one on an always-on Internet connection, I have had a Redhat web server get hacked. My fault, I didn't maintain the patch levels on one of the services and the attacker used a known exploit to try to get root and managed to just break the boot process and inconvenience me, but the point is that I need for security patches and other updates to not be a manual, hand-holding operation where I have to remain immersed in administrative chores.
Again, security patches are handled as automatically as you would like. Once you'v configured your system and locked it down, you won't have to do much more than tweak settings every year or so.
Hardware (will edit for accuracy once I'm home at the computer)
CPU - Q6600 (core2 duo quad 2.4)
MB - EVGA nForce
VC - EVGA 8800 GTS
Ram - 2 gigs mid-range brand
PCIE card - ATA/SATA add-on card
HDD - WD Velociraptor; Brand X 1TB SATA
DVD - Generic $35 all-in-one r/w/rw
- Motorola sbg900 cable modem
- HP all-in-one printer/scanner/fax
- Brand X 1 TB USB backup drive
Nice .. I don't see any problems here. Wireless card?
Besides an office suite, a web browser, and an email client, all of which I know I can find easy replacements for under linux, I play World of Warcraft, edit photos with Photoshop Elements, and play the occasional other game, mostly old school dosbox requiring games such as Master of Orion II. I'm willing to use either Wine or VMware for running my Windows software, with a huge preference for Wine (or I'll gladly learn about other emulation options). So I need a release which is very Wine friendly. I'm used to Enlightenment, AfterStep, and KVWM, although not current on any of them. I'm willing to consider any other desktop, but I'd like to stay as lean as possible. I don't need all the bells and whistles which come with the more bloated desktop options. I didn't care for Windowmaker back in the day, but I'm sure it has changed as well.
It would be easier for us if you posted again with a list of the applications you use most often. No explanation, just a list of the apps with one app per line. We'll respond with the most common equivalents that we use in linux.
Gaming in linux is still hit-and-miss, but the games you mentioned above are all playable using Wine.
So far, I recommend either Ubuntu (ease of use and installation) or Gentoo (long and involved installation process, easy to use once running, FAST). Gentoo will teach you more about linux, while Ubuntu will just work.