Let's take a tour of the Ubuntu Desktop. The Ubuntu Desktop, really the Gnome desktop, is divided into three main sections: two panels, which are the bars along the top and bottom, and a desktop in the middle. The top panel bar has menus, icons, date and time, and a power icon with your name on it, which is used to shut down the computer. The bottom panel has a desktop switcher, a trash icon, and icons for your desktops.
I think you'll find the menus are laid out much better than the Windows layout. The menu applet contains three menus, and you can customize your own menu if you like. The first menu, the Applications menu, provides easy access to every program installed on your computer. The menu is laid out a little different than Windows, because menus are grouped into categories: Accessories, Games, Graphics, Internet, Office, Sound and Video, and the Ubuntu Software Center. If you run through each of these sub menus you'll find that Ubuntu provides you with a lot of applications when you first load your operating system.
The last choice on the Applications Menu, the Ubuntu Software Center, is a little like Windows "Add & Remove" programs only laid out a tad better with more functionality. The Software Center tracks all installed programs, let's you remove them, locates free software on the internet that will run with Ubuntu, and installs the program of your choice on your system, installing the program in a category in your Applications Menu with an icon, program name, and brief description of the program, nice. What's nice is that you don't have to go looking for a download site, download the file, unzip it, and install it, the Software Center takes care of all of that for you. You can go ahead and open all of these initial Ubuntu programs and check them out, to shut a program down, click the X in the upper right corner of the application, just like in Windows. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the functionality that Ubuntu provides with the operating system.
The Places menu is like Windows, My Documents, Explorer, and recent Documents all-in-ome. This is where you can find all your files on your computer. All of your music, video, documents, and other data are stored in the Places folders and are easily available to you. This is your files system, places on your computer where your data is stored. Double click on any folder and an explorer like windows opens to show you the files in your folder. Want to move a file to a different folder, click on it and drag it to the new folder. Want to make a new folder, right click, like in Windows.
The Systems Menu is like the Windows Control Panel and Device Manager, in it you can change the appearance of your desktop, configure your system, install printers, networks, drivers, and run various system utilities.
One program I want to have you run right now is under Administration->Update Manager. This program keeps all the software on your system up to date. Click "Check", put in your password, and let the program go to work. When I initially installed Ubuntu, I had 41 things that needed updating, let the program run and do it's job. Presto your system is updated.
Icons, like icons in Windows, are used to launch or start programs. You should find the help icon and probably the firefox icon in the top panel. You can add more icons by right click->Add to Panel, find the program you want to put on the top bar your done. When I initially loaded Ubuntu I was playing with the desktop and had all my menus disappear. If this happens to you, don't panic, go to the top panel, right click, Add to Panel->Main Menu. You can also add your own custom menu. I did say every thing on the desktop could be moved, if you don't like where the icons are, move them by unlocking the "Lock to Panel" in the right click menu for each item and then drag the icon to a new location and lock it again. The other icons toward the right in the top panel are for: sound with a volume control, networking with information about your network connection, and empathy and email applet that you can use to set up your emails.
This brings us to the date and time. Right click and you can copy time and date to place in your documents, left click and you'll see a calendar with a day/night clock which allows you to edit date and time and put locations on the world map. When you put in a location in the world, a clock will appear below the day/night clock showing the time at that location. To close this application, you'll have to click on the top icon again. This is much better than the Windows calendar and clock set up. The last icon in the top panel with your name allows you to turn off your computer.
The next main section below the top panel is the desktop. The desktop is like the Windows desktop, it can contain files, folders, and icons to start applications. You can create a new folder, document, or launcher, an icon to start a program.
The bottom panel starting from the left, has a desktop swithching applet, if you click on it you'll switch between your open windows and another desktop. A desktop is the same as the main section described in the last paragraph, only you can have as many desktops as you want. In each desktop you can have a series of open applications which will appear as tabs in the bottom panel just like in Windows. A desktop for your spreadsheet, one for email, one for playing a game. If you look over to the right on the bottom panel you will see desktop icons. Each icon is one of your desktops. Click on them to switch to a specific desktop.
The final icon on the far left is your trash folder. It operates just like the Windows trash folder, in that a deleted file will not be removed from the system, until you specifically "Empty Trash." If you click on the trash icon you will open an explorer window showing your trash folder.
I think you can see from this overview that the Ubuntu Desktop has everything you need to take charge of your computer. As I mentioned earlier, I think the layout is easier to use and more understandable then Windows ever was.