Step 1 - Get a wallet
The Original Bitcoin Client is free, open-source software. The current version is 0.8.1, you can download it here:
Windows Setup (9.2MB)
Mac Installer (12.0MB)
Code & Binaries (11.1MB)
After downloading, simply install the client on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer. It will automatically create a wallet for you and start downloading the transaction history. (Future versions will have a "lightweight" mode where this is not necessary.)
Another way to get a wallet is to get one online at Coinbase or MyWallet. With this option you don't have to install anything, but you have to take great care not to lose your password and you're trusting that site to keep your wallet safe.
Once your wallet is set up, you'll get your first Bitcoin address, which means you're ready to receive Bitcoins!
Step 2 - Get Bitcoins
Not the most convenient way, but bonus programs offer small amounts of Bitcoins when making other purchases, for completing surveys etc.
Physical Bitcoins are available through Casascius and BitBills. Those places only accept Bitcoin, but you can get them with a credit card through MemoryDealers. You do pay a markup for the production and delivery, but it's a fairly easy way to get moderate amounts of coins. Plus the physical coins make a great and memorable gift!
Fund your exchange accounts or buy Bitcoin directly at one of over 700 000 locations worldwide via BitInstant.
If you prefer skipping the exchange and dealing directly with other people you can head over to Bitcoin OTC.
What to do with my Bitcoins?
You can find lots of Bitcoin-related services on the Trade page in the Bitcoin Wiki.
Check out Bitcoin's largest online auction house at BitMit!
Turn your Bitcoins into gift cards from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and many more at SpendBitcoins.com. Or get gift codes for services like XBoxLive, PSN or iTunes instantly online at Bitcoincodes.com.
Buy music, ebooks, wallpapers and other downloadable content at CoinDL!
You might also want to check the Bitcoin Marketplace forum on Bitcoin.org.
Over-the-counter trading is being done via IRC chat in Bitcoin OTC (#bitcoin-otc on Freenode).
Keep up with the community more »
Here are some good places to follow if you want to stay in touch with current Bitcoin events:
- Bitcoin Money - Bitcoin news and articles
- Bitcoin News - Daily diary of what's happening with Bitcoin
- The Bitcoin Trader - Blog with original articles about the Bitcoin market
- r/bitcoin - Bitcoin links and discussion by the Reddit community
- Bitcoin Trading Signals - Technical analysis and market coverage
- The Monetary Future - Virtual currency news and analysis
Also, for an overview of the Bitcoin world at a glance, try Bitcoin Watch.