This is the best place to come for help that I've found so far for your general questions. With my Gentoo install I try the Gentoo Forums alot because Gentoo has alot of Gentoo Only problems. I almost always get answers for my questions within 24 hrs here, and I almost always get my problems solved. Considering we're not being charged to use this site, you can get any better than that, even if you payed. If you need it now and downloading takes to long you can get free CDs from Linux magizines are your local book store as mentioned earlier. You can also pay for them from many retailers. They're usually really cheap too, a few dollars for the CDs and a few more for shipping. I'd recomend Ubuntu, Fedora, or SUSE for newbies. Older hardware would probably do better with DamnSmall or Arch though. OpenOffice.org is excellent alternitive to Word, Powerpoint, etc. The GIMP is the better picture editor in my opinion. Of course it will let you view them too. GAIM allows you to get all your IM needs under control. But there are many alternitives, even for the ones I mentioned.
Hope all of that helps alittle. Good luck!