If I'd alway's used "paid for" version's, then I'd have probably ended up not having quite the struggle that I experienced.
I had a download of 8.2 followed by standard of 9.0, then powerpack 9.1 (disk only as the install is usually pretty straight forward and for everything else, the doc's are on the disk) and I didn't bother with 9.2, but I'm now onto 10 official dvd powerpack (again, disk only).
I have no qualms whatsoever in paying for my mandrake. "They" have done more than most to make a nice, easy, straight forward, desktop oriented distro. It's been worth every penny of my money.
You'd have the option of getting most of the app's you're ever gonna want on the disk - reasonably up to date. If there's something you end up using a lot, and they (whatever app it may be) release a newer version that you want to get yer hand's on, then you end up getting into installing from either non-specific rpm's or source - which would be a good learner!. though as I say, you've still got relatively UTD version's on the disk.
Also if you stick to mandrake specific rpm's (from the disc and when you learn how to modify your sources - see easy urpmi
you'd probably not experience any problem's (probably, not definitely).
It'd give you an excellent first proper linux experience. If you have success with linux in the early stages, you're more likely to stick with it.
Plus if you dual boot for a while, you've got the option to compare.
p.s. I did say that mandrake have done more than most, that's not to negate the excellent efforts of redhat, SuSE, etc etc etc. I just feel that mandrake is arguably the best place to start.