I have heard lots of complaints about configuring hardware in Linux distributions. This argument has had lots of merit in the past, but with each new distribution or release, managing hardware has become much easier. With Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution to date, the developers have spent an incredible amount of time adding drivers and apps to help you configure your computer. I offer these tips for configuring your hardware as examples of how easy it can be. Please remember that each computer build and its configuration may be different, so these are general guidelines. Usually there are forums dedicated to each distribution where users and developers can interact and solve specific issues.
Research Your Hardware. Just like with Windows, if you use Windows you need hardware that is supported by Windows. Wireless cards are the same for Linux. In most cases, it is black or white. Linux supports it, or it doesn't. You can find most hardware information HERE. For laptop support, sites include:
Configuring Your Wireless Card. Unfortunately, using a Linux distribution that does not have wireless drivers or apps already built in can be a bit daunting. Ubuntu and similar distros based on Debian have done a fair job of adding many drivers for wireless cards. These distros support variety of cards and many will simply work once the distro is installed. A bit of quick research might help to see if the card is supported out of the box.
One of the best articles I have found for configuring your wireless card (outside of the distribution specific forum) can be found HERE. Unless you have an older PCMCIA card, chances are that the card will be supported.
Configuring Your Graphics Card: Whether you use Nvidia or ATI for your graphics card needs, there are guides to help you. Nvidia driver installation guidelines can be found HERE. You can also visit the Nvidia home page HERE. ATI driver installation can be found HERE. The author has personally had more success with Nvidia drivers, but each user may have different results.
Configuring higher resolutions and refresh rates is not a daunting task. Ubuntu has released a simple guide to do this. You simply have to add a few lines to your xorg.conf file. To do this, use this guide. You'll need to look up the specs of your specific card and monitor in order to add the right settings. A simple search of your product on the web should do this. If you get on "Out of Range" message, you can use the key combination Ctl-Alt +/- (plus or minus on the number pad) to revert back to a lower resolution. Again, support forums help out immensely.
Upgrade and Update: Just as with Windows, Linux upgrades and updates its kernel and software often. In the older days, updating may have been difficult, but today's distros make it simple to do. If you can check a box and click Install, that is about it. Ubuntu uses Synaptic (a GUI based utility of Apt). Each distribution uses some form of package manager to update. It is strongly recommended that the user downloads and updates their Linux distribution with the appropriate package manager. Synaptic does a particularly good job of solving any dependency issues with programs, packages, and similar files. Advanced users can compile packages from other sources, but the risk of broken packages is greater.
Use Ubuntu (or one of its derivatives). Ubuntu is the fastest growing and currently most popular Linux distribution. Te main reason for using this particular distro is that there is lots of support from users, as well as websites that offer lots of helpful advice. One of the best I've found is HERE. In addition, users have found the distro to be easy to use, highly configurable, and loaded with simple, easy to use utilities. This makes the overall Linux experience enjoyable and worthwhile for the user.