Almost all distributions will be able to use tar.gz files, for the plain reason that most of them have tar and gzip installed by default.
RPM is another case - some distro's use it as the default packaging and updating tool. Even if your distribution does not support it by default, you can still install the rpm tools and maybe some updater tool like yum (that uses rpm packages) to install rpm packages.
The main point with rpm packages are:
- even among rpm-based distributions there are differences (Suse rpm's are not necessarily healthy for Fedora systems, and vice versa), so it always depends on the contents of the rpm package and how it does fit your system
- if using rpm packages, you should stick with them: mixing your distro's native packaging with other packaging alternatives can lead to installing the same tools twice (in different places) and fighting over overlapping configuration files
- it is possible to convert different types of packages. Alien is a program that converts between the rpm, dpkg, stampede slp, and slackware tgz file formats. If you want to use a package from another distribution than the one you have installed on your system, you can use alien to convert it to your preferred package format and install it.
- RPM maintains an rpm-database for installed packages. This database has no information about packages installed some other way (for example tarballs unpacked somewhere). The fact that rpm doesn't report a tool as installed, doesn't necessarily mean that it's not there on the system.
To learn programming you can choose any distribution. You will have rather to look for some IDE's and developer tools that suite your own requirements. Some people prefer Anjuta, others stick with Kate, LCC has a compiler suite for Windows and Linux, and hardcore programmers have no problems to do everything in emacs or vim.
If your new to Linux and are used to Windows, you should probably start out with some of the smoother distro's like Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Fedora or Suse, as it gives you more GUI tools and eye candy. Starting out with LiveCD's is also a good starting point, before making a final decision about the distribution.