Marco at Open home automation has a good writeup on getting started with ESP8266. With choice of different ESP8266 available in the market, it is quite confusing for a beginner to decide on which board to get. The article simplifies the choice by recommending which boards to get for starters. as for development the choice is to go native with nodemcu based environment or use arduino ide based toolchain.
Good resource to follow…. Getting Started With the ESP8266 Chip – Open Home Automation.