Wow, my earliest experiences with Linux really take me back and bring forth some interesting memories.
I first heard of Linux around November 1993, around the time I started college. At the time, we had an IBM ES9000 mainframe that was shared by all of the undergraduate engineering students, running AIX/ESA 2.2. This was my very first experience with a UNIX-like operating system and the X Window System. Back then, we had NCD X terminals (remember those?) and PCs networked together using what I think is twinax, or a similar IBM-style connection infrastructure.
I was having a lot of fun learning UNIX and X as a college freshman, and thought that it was a solid environment especially coming from an Amiga (Workbench 1.3) background. I wasn't too familiar with Microsoft's offerings back then, other than dabbling with older versions of OS/2 and Windows for a bit, and knowing a bit about MS-DOS and the existence of Windows NT. I still had my Amiga 500 but couldn't really find much of a use for it for my college work, and felt that it was starting to show its signs of age as a hobbyist system.
There were a few major issues that took place with the AIX/ESA flavor of UNIX. In the early 90s, the version of GCC that was out at the time was not yet ported to the ES9000 platform. This meant that a good chunk of available open-source software would not compile on the system. The load that would sometimes be incurred onto the system with hundreds of students logged in at the same time would make the system extremely unresponsive and sluggish.
I saw an ad in the university engineering hall for a "Free UNIX" system with contact information for someone in Finland. I was thinking to myself, "why would anyone from Finland advertise that they are trying to get rid of or sell their UNIX computer here in the States? You'd think someone in their native country would have already picked up the system by now." It turns out that the ad was a printout of Linus's "finger" profile (again, remember those?), describing his project called "Linux".
I couldn't contain my excitement! I immediately jumped on every FTP site that I could, especially sunsite.unc.edu, which I discovered was the premier FTP site for Linux files and documentation. I downloaded every FAQ and HOWTO that I could get my hands on, and spent a lot of time absorbing and reading Linux documentation. I was particularly excited that XFree86 was introduced, giving Linux full X capability.
However, I did not own a PC at this time, and I no longer was in possession of my Amiga. I had to resort to learning about Linux purely from documentation and Usenet discussions (once again, remember those?). It wasn't until fall 1994, when I had a classwork assignment for a project in the C language, did I finally get the chance to install Slackware (I think it was version 2.0 or a release shortly thereafter) on a friend's computer. He only had 4MB RAM, so it was a bit painful to try to get it to work in top shape, but it was precisely what I needed to get the assignment completed successfully.
I purchased a Trans-Ameritech CD-ROM and a few Infomagic CDs that I played with on the work computers where I was an intern in the summer of 1995. I remember how there were quite a few early distributions besides Slackware, like MCC-Interim, TAMU, SLS, and Yggdrasil. I remember when I first heard about Red Hat and the RPM package management system, and thought that it was a good alternative to having all the pieces of a working system distributed as tarballs, with dependencies and uninstallation handled gracefully. (Didn't Red Hat, at the time, use a very tall red top hat for its logo?)
I finally got my own computer in late 1995. I again chose Slackware, and spent quite a bit of time manually recompiling every system component so that I can have ELF binaries instead of a.out binaries. That was quite the workout and taught me a lot about Linux administration, much more so than reading HOWTOs alone would.
Since then, I went distro-hopping, and settled on the early Red Hat Linux versions for many years (up until Red Hat Linux 7 I believe - I can't remember offhand). Life got in the way, and my career became Microsoft-centric, so I was away during the whole SCO debacle that took place last decade. When I returned to Linux, I was disappointed that Red Hat Linux was no longer around, so I moved on to Fedora Core 2, then to CentOS 4 and CentOS 5. When Ubuntu became popular, I decided to try it out, especially since CentOS was more focused on servers when I needed a desktop OS. I had mixed results with Ubuntu on all the hardware I was able to try it on (with compatibility and usability issues too numerous for me to even remember at this point). By the time Ubuntu got to Maverick Meerkat, I installed the Xubuntu variant on an older HP zd8000, and it brought the laptop back to life for a little while until it was time to upgrade again. I was, and still am, very happy with Xubuntu and I continue to use it to this day, alongside Mint.
Well, in theory my very first nix distro was Slackware (i don't remember which version) following my teacher at that point, then i found that Slack isn't that friendly with noobies so i count Red Hat 7.0 as the first *nix distro i ever used. Right now i am using Open SUSE since ....3 or 4 years and i don't feel sorry for abandoning Windoze
My first distro was Freespire, around 2005-2006. It's amazing how much LInux (and other FLOSS software) has improved since then. I remember having to drag a long ethernet cord through my house to get internet access because my wireless card didn't have a working driver. Good times, lol.