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tar bar normally is compress of source code for particular program, after extract it you need to build and install it manually (./configure, make, sudo make install). the tar ball can be small but the time to compile it maybe very long. For beginner I don't recommend you install software via tar ball. (It is painful some times.)
rpm is software package which has been compile and optimise by particular distro provider (redhat, suse, mandrake, fedora core and etc). Normally this kind of vendor will have a big repository which can solve all your software dependency issue. For beginner I would like to suggest you to use this method.
Except rpm, there is another alternative called deb (work similar with rpm).
If you are beginner, and you willing to learning more. I would recommend you to use ubuntu because it has huge repository of software(ubuntu use .deb).
Well, assuming by "Tar ball" you mean a program compressed in tar ball format, there are quite a few differences. RPMs usually install via a double-click, unless they fail. Sometimes the install can be messy, and have duplicate libraries. But it's a lot easier.
I think the term tarball preceded slackware. A slack tarball will have the extension .tgz. A compressed tar archive of source will normally use the extension .tar.gz. Sometimes bzip2 is used instead and has the extenstion .tar.bz.
In any case, the most important file in a source tarball will be the README file.
If your distro is RPM based, use that unless what you want is not available. Using your distro's packaging system will keep the rpm database up to date and allow security updates to occur in the future for that package. Also, the library versions will match up, and a Fedora Core or SuSE repository for example should have any requirements also available.
Tarball: An archive of files created with the Unix tar utility. Source-code distributions have been packaged as tarballs since the mid 1980s, even though the term's usage did not become commonplace until the late 1990s.
In the same Google search were found several references indicated that a .tar archive can be called a tarball---"with or without" compression.
Terms like this may have been popularized by Linux, but they existed before.