Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
Debian is one of the most common distributions in the world. With a possible total of twenty one CDs, it is also one of the biggest. As you may have gathered from the fact that this guide exists, Debian is not the easiest distribution. However, anybody that is relatively competent with computers should be able to use Debian (after all, I am!). This is not a guide to every detail of Debian Etch - instead, it aims to get you going, so you can start tinkering away!
When you go onto the Debian website, you will find three possible versions you can install. At any point, there are three main choices: stable, testing and unstable. Stable is regularly released, with the packages staying the same throughout that particular release, apart from security updates. This is best if you want the versions of packages to be consistent and, unsurprisingly, if you want absolute stability. The current version is 4.0, otherwise known as Etch.
Next up is testing. This next version is named Lenny, and the packages within are regularly updated, and should be relatively stable - I use packages from testing, and my system never seems to crash! However, on occasion, especially after a release of stable, you can find serious bugs in testing. Finally, we have unstable, which is always called Sid. In case you didn't realise, these are all characters from Toy Story, with Sid being the 'unstable' kid next door. This guide focuses on Debian Etch, but much of it should be applicable to later versions and unstable versions.
To give you an idea of which of the three versions is best for you, knowing the relationship between the versions helps. New and updated packages are put into unstable. Once they have been there for a given amount of time, and have few enough bugs, they are moved into testing. They stay here until the next update of the package, or just before a new stable release. Before a new stable release, testing is frozen, and a bug fixing frenzy ensues. This results in the release of a new version, most recently Etch.