To start this mostly thought experiment, I thought I'd choose the hardware. For this, I went with a Dell Insprion 600m. It is 10 years old, has 40 GB of memory, and 512 MB of RAM. It came preloaded with Windows XP and a wireless card. To say the least, it's specs show its age. And with XP's death a few weeks behind us, it's not something you would want to be using at first blush for, well, anything other than a paper weight or recycling.
I chose this laptop simply because I had it lying around from when my wife was in college. You can find one of these around for under $100.00 easily.
Of course, you can't leave it running Windows XP, but it definitely can't handle Windows 7 or 8. So, I went with Linux Mint, Version 13 code named Maya. Specifically, I chose the version with the Mate desktop.
Maya Mint is a FREE operating system. With the Mate desktop, it has some elements that will feel familiar to Windows XP and Windows 7 users. It is infinitely customizable, and a there is a lot of free, open source programs available for download. This includes web browsers, office suites, email clients, and others.
I've been using this particular setup for android app development for several months and for some light word processing without any problem. It boots quickly, I can access the internet, can receive Word files, and can open Adobe documents.
Linux might not be for everyone, but if you're looking to start a solo career and don't have much to invest in technology, a cheap, old laptop can be found and a safe, free operating system can run it. In the future, we will talk about the open source software available to run your low cost office.