People who are new to Linux® are often confused by the large number of distributions to choose from. One of the things that is very confusing to new Linux enthusiasts is the "distro," or distribution. And one of the most confusing things about distributions, for the beginner, is that there is no official definition of what a distribution is, exactly: distributions existed in many forms long before anyone cared. Based on Distrowatch , currently there are 367 distro released on the earth, errrgh.. that's sound confusing. Fortunately, we can ignore most of them. Just pick up one of these 5 big distribution for your daily productivity. They are in alphabeticaly order :
Hey, where is my Debian? Well, Debian is also a popular distro, and it's also have it's 'grandchild distro' like Mepis, Ubuntu and etc, but it's consistency in making a good quality software makes they often late for releasing new versions of the distro. While others reach a high version number of development release, Debian is still in version 4.
Besides those 5 large distribution, You may consider the following for making the right decision :
Pickup one distro for example Ark Linux and try googling it. How many discussion forum talking about Ark Linux you got? How active are they? How fast can you get an answer if you post a question there? How about the official product support? Are they still live?
I found that every large distribution offers documentation in so many languages. OpenSuSE gives a goog translation so did Ubuntu. The Docs usually can be on installation disc. Please explore the docs first before you go to installation.
3. Installation / Update Tools
How do i install sofware in linux? is it as easy as 'click next' as in windows world? Can i upgrade a distribution without a mess? Yes, you can ! Nowadays that 5 big distros has bundled its software management, and software installing and uninstalling will be simple and easy even for newbies. Let's see what we've got here. OpenSuSE hast its YaST2, Ubuntu and Debian alike has apt, Fedora and all rpm based sofware has RPM. You don't have to messed up with all of those dependencies problems.
4. Kernel Version
The newer the kernel, chances are more detectable for some newer hardware. This is important issue as not all the hardware vendor release their driver in linux version. Bug fixes should also be done in the newest kernel, so you won't be worry about any security problems as these guy in the kernel developers work hard for releasing new version.
5. If you still affraid :
You have sooooo many ways just to taste linux. Try something called liveCD distro. Linux got tons of this kind. Say Puppy Linux ( it's very small distribution ) Damn Small Linux, Ubuntu Live CD, Knoppix ( First LiveCD distro i ever know ). In most cases, it gives a personal experience in linux since you don't have to install it on your hard drive. Just boot and run linux live from your CD or DVD drive. Another option is USB drive. Visit Pendrivelinux for more