The most common way to make your 386 or higher PC into a Linux box is to obtain a Linux "distribution", which generally includes the kernel and various system and optional software packages.
Quote from Section 2.1 of Linux Installation and Getting Started by Matt Welsh: "Because Linux is free software, no single organization or entity is responsible for releasing and distributing the software. Therefore, anyone is free to put together and distribute the Linux software, as long as the restrictions in the GPL are observed. The upshot of this is that there are many distributions of Linux, available via anonymous FTP or via mail order."
There are two ways to obtain a distribution: downloading and purchasing a CD-ROM.
This approach has the advantage of being free and not requiring a CD-ROM drive, and the disadvantage of taking a very long time.
Here are some FTP sites and homepages:
If you have a CD-ROM drive, it is recommended that you purchase a distribution on CD-ROM. Not only do you not have to download anything, but installation is usually much simpler. Even if you have a non-standard CD-ROM drive (e.g. one that connects to a SoundBlaster card), most distributions provide boot disks that contain the required drivers.
Eric S. Raymond maintains a HOWTO document on Linux distributions. It contains information both on ftp sites and CD-ROM vendors.
Each distribution has its own following, large or small. The only way to find out if a distribution is for you is to get it, install it, and try it out.
But under no circumstances should the above list be considered exhaustive or a recommendation or advocation of any kind!
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There are numerous Debian mailing-lists. The three most interesting lists for users are: debian-announce, debian-user and debian-changes.
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