Yes start by downloading the ISOs for things you want to try.
If the laptop doesn't have a CD drive you can either connect a portable one (USB)
or boot up from the live CD on another machine - many live CDs have built-in program Startup Disk Creator
or similar to make a bootable USB stick.
Windows and Mac users can also make bootable USBs using UNetbootin
. This program offers to download the ISO for you (if you don't already have it).
Booting from USB is often faster for trying / installing especially for netbooks without CD. You need a minimum 1GB stick (of which up to 800MB will be used for the bootable OS image), and the USB stick is reusable so you can update it over time and always have an OS in your pocket.
If the laptop has less than 1GB RAM also look at Lubuntu (11.10, Desktop
, the first option is 32-bit if not sure) it starts small but you can install additional Ubuntu stuff if needed.
If you have made up your mind by the end of April you will have a choice of the new releases (some of which are LTS meaning updates will be supplied for longer).
prompt $P - Invalid drive specification - Abort, Retry, Fail? $G
prlzx on n e w n e t: ADSL2+ / 21CN at 2.5Mbps / 800k