Start with the Arduino, cheaper and more friendly to start with. And once you start building your own devices you can use only the chip + a few components.
I havent played with it yet ... still busy with the arduino ...
One nice thing with an Arduino, is that if you decide to move on to just using a standalone microcontroller, you can use the arduino to program other Atmel microcontrollers.
Mike sczsy of Hackaday did a nice short series on learning to program with the Atmel AVR series of microcontrollers.
does anyone know where I can get a free IDE with a compiler for the C Language?
For a microcontroller, or just programming windows applications?
For a micro controller.
Although technically, I guess as long as you have the libraries loaded correctly, you can use any C ide?
I have no idea for which, it's just a hobby I want to get started...
The Arduino Software can be downloaded here And if you search around there are many tutorials, covering everything from flashing an LED to robots to whatever you can imagine.