I've read pretty much the same things about the distros. Time will tell whether they have what it takes to be players. I've been able to get everything I need in Kubuntu, so am not looking to change at the moment.
I looked at all the free solutions at VMWare, but they didn't have the flexibility that I sought. I'm happy with WMWorkstation, as it is very flexible and makes it easy to tailor individual machines. Although I'm currently using it for WinXP access, I will probably do much more with it as time goes on. I agree about WINE. With a WinXP VM, I only use WINE for simple tasks like iSilo and iSiloX.