The idea of free software?a free operating system in particular?takes some getting used to, but it happens fast. When you are working with other operating systems, getting and trying new releases involves some kind of cash outlay. In the case of Linux, the most you need is a spare machine on which to play. Consequently, you can load one version of Linux, take it for a spin, then load another and see whether that feels any better to you.
If you have a high-speed Internet connection (and a CD burner), you can visit any of the vendors' sites listed at the end of this chapter and download their latest and greatest. Remember, though, that although you may download their latest Linux free of charge, technical support may still be an extra cost.
If you don't like the idea of visiting each and every one of those sites, a visit to LinuxIso.org (http://www.linuxiso.org/) may be in order. This site provides you with a one-stop shop for the more popular Linux distributions with ISOs (CD-ROM images) available for download.
Package managers often have a great deal to do with what people end up choosing in terms of a distribution. In this book, I'll be talking about installing software using RPM, and every distribution I mentioned above uses RPM as the package manager, so the information you take with you will work with any of these releases. I have also developed a great respect for the power and simplicity of Debian's apt-get program. In fact, you now get apt-get for RPM-based systems.
The method of update is also worthy of consideration. Many vendors now provide an option for updating and patching your system online. As long as you have a fast Internet connection, you are all set. Finally, here's the great disclaimer of the decade: Linux, like all dynamic, living things, is evolving and changing. It is a moving target and, consequently, the details of a specific distribution will change over time. In the next chapter, I'll cover three major distributions and their installation procedures to give you an idea of what you can expect to see. For now, let's talk about what you are going to need in preparation for getting Linux on your system.