Step 8: Puppy Linux
Puppy Linux is a Linux live cd- throw it in your CD drive, turn your computer on, make sure the BIOS is set to check for bootable CDs and it will fire up. The entire operating system is 50MB in size, meaning it will also fit on a USB stick the size that you can get free from career fairs- this is worth doing as you can save files onto the remainder of the stick to use with Puppy if you don't want it to touch your hard disk.
It's pretty full featured- has a browser, email, instant messenging, basic office software (writer, spreadsheet), drawing programs, music and DVD player, CD burner and a lot of system administration tools for things like partitioning and formatting hard drives which make it very useful as a system rescue disk.
The programs are mostly chosen for their lightweight nature- rather than the latest Firefox it uses the very simple Dillo browser, for instance, with the result that it can run on even the oldest computers. I used Puppy to rejuvenate an elderly laptop (500MHz PIII, 64MB RAM, 4GB hard disk) that was too slow to run Windows ME properly and it ran like a dream with Puppy.
It isn't a panacea that will solve all your computing woes- the interface, while simple, is odd (single clicks on files or shortcuts open them and you can't change this), and like any Linux system it requires a little knowledge of how UNIX-like systems behave, but it is still remarkably easy to use. The newer versions include hardware detection so an average PC with standard components should autodetect without any problems.
But if you needed any more persuading that Puppy is worthwhile having...
Imagine you use Windows, and for some reason your installation gets damaged or corrupted in some way and won't boot up. Would you rather
a) use the Microsoft repair utility, hope that it can patch up whatever is wrong with your machine and hope that if that is possible, you will still have some of your files left at the end, and of course go to an internet cafe every time you want to check your emails
b) stick in a CD, boot into a fully-featured operating system with all the tools mentioned above that will let you recover your files, try to fix the problem yourself and let you be productive with your machine while your primary OS is down?
Download a Puppy Linux ISO here and check out the documentation and Wiki