As for Distros I use Corel, very easy to install and well, I couldn’t find anything else at the time.
Now, getting started with Mesa (OpenGL for Unix, pretty much) There is no OpenGL for Linux so Mesa takes it’s place the coding is exactly the same with some minor implementation differences. The purpose of Mesa is to be a port of OpenGL to unsupported OS’s. Ok, with that out of the way, you will want to visit http://utah-glx.sourceforge.net/. This site has accelerated drivers for many of the cards out there today (read the docs). In the process of installing these drivers you will install Mesa so that will kill two birds with one install.
Once you have the libraries installed and your drivers install you can start your coding. Now, you said that you are a VC++ person, well I am not really. I use a program called Xemacs in Linux for my coding. It is a very nice program, however you will have to deal with makefiles and this might be a problem if you only deal with the MS Wizards and projects. There are probably people out the that can tell you more about programs similar to VC++, I believe that a program called Crisp comes with Suse and this may be what you want. Take a look for a website.
Ok, now getting code started is very easy much of your code could be ported if you are using glut, if you have using the MS Windowing then you will have to learn how to create x windows. There are some quick examples that come with mesa look in the /xdemos directory.
If you have any questions about installing the GLX drivers or Mesa let me know.