I like to use 'watch' quite a lot to give me a live output of commands like 'du -sh'
It's not very pure and it's been a while since i used it but when i was first faced with a linux server i found webmin to be a life saver until i learned how to do simple thing like add a user or restart a service.
I like 'iptraf' too for a quick look at whats going on with a nic.
'startx is also quite an amusingly obscure way to start the desktop, always makes me smile when a new person see's me do that when they have spent the past 45 minutes fumbling around trying to do something.
My advice to new comers is always to use linux as your main os for a while, no dual booting or having a VM on your windows laptop. The problem with that is that as soon as you hit a problem that will be faster to get around by going back to windows, you'll go back to windows and learn nothing.
Dive in, be prepared to do some reading to be able to get yourself up to the same level that you are with windows. Once your there then you will find that you can do an awful lot more with linux.
I found Debian to be a wonderful and easy to use linux, i recommend it to anyone and personally i find it much easier to use that the redhat's out there.