An evolution of my advice for getting started with Linux
I used to think that the best first step to explore Linux was through a live Linux CD. A live Linux CD is a bootable CD that contains a complete Linux installation compressed onto a CD. The KNOPPIX Linux Live CD, is perhaps one of the first and most popular examples of a bootable Linux CD. In order to boot this version of Linux, all you would have to do is first, make sure that your computer is configured to boot from the CD-ROM. Most modern IBM-compatible PC's come already configured to boot from the CD-ROM. If not, you would have to modify your BIOS configuration to include boot from CD-ROM as the first option in the boot order. The only other consideration to boot the CD was whether your PC met the minimum hardware requirements.The two most important hardware components are the video graphics card and the amount of random access memory (RAM). From most people, they meet the minimum requirements and then some, because the live Linux CD is optimized to run on the most meager of systems.
Over the course of the last year, my advice evolved. Now through the wonders of virtualization, a new Linux user could boot a live Linux CD without having to actually reboot your machine. Virtualization provides the ability to create a virtual machine within your existing operating system installation. A virtual machine is a computer defined in software. Through this technology you can install Linux within your existing Windows machine.