2.4 Will my hardware work under Linux?
Not every piece of PC hardware is supported under Linux, but most are, particularly the more standard, older, and popular ones. This applies to SCSI adapters, CDROMs, writable and rewritable CDs (CD-R and CD-RW), video cards, mice, printers, modems, network cards, scanners, Iomega drives, etc.
The most notable exceptions are the so-called Winmodems (=MS Windows modems also called "software modems"). Avoid these like fire--they are a bit less expensive than full modems, but they are crippled (some processing is done by the main computer CPU instead of by the modem), and there is little chance you will have a Winmodem running on Linux right away (for more info on Winmodems, see http://www.idir.net/~gromitkc/winmodem.html). External modems are never "Winmodems" so if in doubt, purchase an external modem (external modems are more expensive, but they don't drain your PC power supply, are easily portable between machines, look better, and show modem activity). Additional points to consider with modems: "Older externals using a Rockwell Protocol that don't work too well. Also, the newer USB modems are not currently (March 2001) well supported. See the winmodem page." [source: B.Staehle].
Another area of potential problems is the video card. If you have a recent "cutting edge" 3D or uncommon card, you may want to check its compatibility at http://www.Xfree86.org.
Zip drives of all kinds are supported fine.
I wouldn't count on Linux supporting a parallel port (non-SCSI) scanner, no matter if the manufacturer claims TWAIN (="Technology Without An Interesting Name", no joke here) compatibility.
So the short answer is yes, in all likelihood your standard PC will run Linux with no problems. You don't invest much when trying Linux, so probably the easiest way to make sure is to attempt an installation on your existing hardware. There are Linux hardware compatibility lists at http://hardware.redhat.com/hcl/genpage2.cgi and http://metalab.unc.edu/LDP/HOWTO/Hardware-HOWTO.html if you want to check your newer or less popular hardware.
When purchasing new hardware, I would always check its Linux compatibility on the above lists. You can also ask your supplier if the hardware is supported under Linux, but I would take the answer with a grain of salt--too many companies have incompetent sales personnel/technical support. When purchasing a new computer, I would consider a system with Linux pre-installed. A number of major suppliers offer systems (particularly large ones) with Linux, but many don't. You can always get a system with Linux-preinstallled from a smaller vendor.
If you are an adventurous person, as I am, I would pay no attention to the remarks above, chances are 90-10 that the hardware will work.
If a piece of hardware of yours is (apparently) not supported in your current Linux distribution, don't give up. Chances are that: (1) It is supported, but you don't know how to set it up. (Solution: stay around with Linux for a few weeks, don't waste your time, when you get some understanding of how your system works, then you may be able to set it up.) (2) You have to go through a more complex setup to support the hardware (for example some cryptic command or a kernel re-compile, which is not as difficult as it seems). (3) An updated (different?) distribution already supports it "out-of-box" (you can usually order it for US$1.99). (4) There is already an upgrade somewhere on the Internet, you have to find it, download it, and figure out how to install it. (4) The upgrade will be available next month--Linux development goes really fast!
Another area that can be problematic is laptops, because laptops typically contain quite unusual hardware that requires the support of the original vendor. See http://www.linux.org/hardware/laptop.html for a help with installation. IBM laptops appear a safe bet as far as Linux compatiblity is concerned. To purchase a Linux laptop, you may also try