Hi there, dliberry:
I've only been using Linux for about two weeks now, but I have put in a lot of hours over those two weeks so I have maybe an ok perspective as a noob.
What type of system do you have? Because it seems like there are (more or less) two major "types" of linux distributions:
1) Lightweight distros meant to run on older computers without a whole lot of memory, and
2) More complete distros which are meant to be more competitive with, say, Windows 7 or the latest mac os
Everyone has their favorites but it looks like Ubuntu and Linux Mint are very popular for people wanting a full featured version of Linux that can be made to replicate the windows "experience"
The great thing is if you already have windows on your machine and have, say, and extra 15 gigs of hard drive space, you can install ubuntu or Linux Mint on the hard drive as well (you can do that with most linux distributions, apparently), and then you can boot up into those versions of Linux, or you can boot into windows like you usually do.
(Note: I have READ that it is better to put Linux on a machine that already has Windows instead of trying to put Windows onto a machine that already has Linux. Windows tends to write over Linux if Linux is installed first... so I have HEARD. Check with someone who knows.)
There is also the possibility of running Linux in a "virtual box" on Windows ?!?!?! I haven't tried that.
Also, if you absolutely have to run windows apps, there are a few options that have been pointed to above. One option I am working with is Wine. You can see search for windows applications that run well on Linux with wine by going to this link:
When you go there, set the Rating filter to Platinum (means the program runs flawlessly) and then set the category to whatever you are looking for, and you can see what windows programs run well in that category.
Poke around that site and you might see what is available for your use.
Also, there is LOTS of open source stuff out there. so just like your experience with The Gimp, there might be something that works well and is open source.
Isn't it great that so many people like FREE stuff that there is a big open source development community?