I am not a big fan of Linux and open source software. However, many would find it useful to take a look at a preconfigured virtual machine with a dozen of pieces of GIS software. This machine is provided in the VMWare format and can be opened by using a free client, VMWare Player, which can be downloaded from the VMWare website. This geographical information systems virtual machine (GIS VM) is available in two editions: GIS Desktop (which includes both desktop and server GIS software such as PostgreSQL, PostGIS, GeoServer, Mapserver, FWTools, QGIS, GRASS, gvSIG, uDIG, Kosmo, OpenJump with the Ubuntu Desktop as an operating system) and GIS Server (which includes only server software such as Apache, MySQL, Php,Tomcat,PostgreSQL, PostGIS, GeoServer, Mapserver, deegree, and Geonetwork with the Ubuntu Server as an operating system). The virtual machine can basically be run by using any client that can handle VMWare image files.
Using this virtual machine with various GIS applications may be a good point to start learning GIS concepts or just to get started with open source GIS. Learning PostgreSQL can be useful for people working with ESRI technologies as well, because this RDBMS is supported since ArcSDE 9.3. Java-based Web technology like Tomcat, the most widely used Web server ever Apache, and a fairly advanced programming language PHP – all those things are widely used and it is very good to become familiar with them, in order to extend one’s IT/GIS expertise. Finally, learning something new is often a lot of fun. The file size is around 1GB, so check your Internet connection speed first, since I am sure there are people out there still using dial-up connections!