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Once installed, though, most of the distros are pretty similar. If you like the installation ease of RedHat, you can lock it down pretty tight afterwards. Even Slackware needs tightening after installation. (I'm one of the paranoid. :))
If you've got CDs itching to be burned, check out linuxiso.org [linuxiso.org]. They have a number of different distros that you can download and create installation CDs from. They also have BSD variants.
Slackware's office copy is pretty cheap though, usually under $20.
RedHat was the easiest install (7.0 currently) - Debian was the hardest, SUSE had the most stuff (6 disks). Debian was the easiest to keep up to date once installed - apt is the Debian package manager - that actually goes off and downloads the most upto date packages without you having to look for a thing. (great on a leased line - not so good on the end of a dialup).
I now run 3 boxes with heavily customised RedHat installations - out of lazyness in the initial install. I generally compile up my own kernel, and most of the packages I add are also compiled on the machine (apache - with mod_perl and mod_php). This tends to break package managers though so its easier not to bother.
I've heard really good things regarding BSD and particularly in regard to servers - if I ever have to build and run my own servers again I'm planning to try this route.
To answer the original question - I'd go to start with either mandrake or redhat - probably the easiest for transition. Here in the UK both are regularly "given" away on magazines (PCPlus).
Must apologise to whoever changed the original topic title - wasn't thinking there, and "hate" is a strong (if applicable) word :).
I have tried both RedHat and Mandrake about 8 months ago, but didn't get too far with either. Mandrake did appeal to me the most, but the install didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked. Things sound like they have been fixed though, which is great news.
I've since been looking for a decent book also, but haven't had much luck - glad to hear I'm not alone on that one.
If we're talking desktops, I actually like the look of KDE the most. I tried GNOME but wasn't overly enamoured with it. Mind you, it was the first time I'd ever installed the big L anyway.
I'll definately grab the latest version of the 'drake then I think, and muddle through with it. Unfortunately, I need to keep Win2k about for a few specific apps, and games of course - unless VALVe get around to creating that ever-elusive client-version of H-L...