This isn’t true at all-- your local work is not revision controlled, it will have no history, so it’s not a branch. A branch is an alternate set of history. No history, no branch.
Sorry for the harsh tone Jeff, but frankly, please talk about DVCS once you’ve used them.
Local work is revision controlled and does have all the history you want, and you can branch it further by creating clones of your local working copy. In a DVCS, each working copy is a repository.
How exactly do these distributed version control systems make merging easier, though? I think merging two people’s independent work is hard no matter how you slice it. This sounds awfully silver bullet-ish to me. Can someone explain this better?
I’ll just redirect you to the “official” documentations.
Here’s the relevant part of the Mercurial Book, http://hgbook.red-bean.com/hgbookch3.html#x7-530003
Didn’t find anything as clear cut for Git, it works pretty much the same way as Mercurial except it’s faster, and Git tracks the whole tree as one single blob instead of tracking individual files.
Anyway yes merging can be hard when there’s a conflict, but it should be trivial when there isn’t.
DVCS make the “no conflict” merge pretty much automatic and painless, and make it much easier to deal with the “with conflict” merge. And keep full history of all the merged branches.