Warning: Total newbie here... in case I run on...
I've been kicking the tires on linux for about 2 weeks now, and I'm very surprised. I expected poor graphics, weak user interfaces, etc. I downloaded Open Office and Mozilla (and other open source programs) for Windows over the last few months, and liked them better than some products I paid for.... so I thought I'd give Linux a look. The mainstream media makes you think you have to be an expert to even try it, but that is not what I found so far.
Gentoo is definitely out of my league (for now), RH 7.3 was very easy to get installed/ running, SUSE's live demo CD was a little off on my video display, Demo Linux was interesting, and Knoppix (www.linuxiso.org) was the best boot CD distro I tried so far - easy, fast, and packed with stuff. Amazing what fits on one CD. I'm going to try Dragon (based on Slack?) when the new release comes out, and Virtual Linux as well. My goal is to find the "best" CD distro to get other people hooked.
I couldn't believe what came with the OS for just about all of them. Full office suites, photo editing, music players, browsers, CD burners. You could spend $500 just on the toys that come with the OS distro package. You'all already know all this, but from a newbie perspective it is incredible. If I could find a pile of K-12 educational games for my kids (and a winmodem replacement) I might default boot to Linux rather than DOS. I probably will eventually anyway. I'm going to try to get my kids programs running on Wine and find a replacement for my winmodem.
For your winmodem, here are some links, that might get you started.. But getting a hardware modem might be your only solution.
http://www.idir.net/~gromitkc/20020605a.html (Quite large > 600K )
Edit: stupid link-auto confersions..