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"are there any other distros that are good for a complete beginner,"
I had the same problem when I first installed Linux. I kept making newbie mistakes, deciding that the distribution was no good, and switching distributions. I went through Debian, Turbolinux, Red Hat, Caldera (or whatever SCO was then called), and SuSE. I finally got SuSE to work because I was steadily learning from all my failed installs and because, at that time, SuSE documentation was a notch above the others.
At the present time there is neglible difference between installing Mandrake, Red Hat, or SuSE as your first Linux system, although Red Hat 8 is not the best release that Red Hat ever put out. I suggest that you go to the library and check out either "The Red Hat Bible" or "Red Hat for Dummies". Both are good books in spite of the unfortunate dummies name. Read the book and try again, or more reasonably, read the book in sections as you go through the corresponding install phase.
And of course dual boot. It will be a while before you get all of your applications running well on Linux so you will need to dual boot until everything works OK. It took me about a month from my first successful SuSE install until I could wipe out Windows.
I am quite happy with read hat, my only problem is no matter how much i read and get advice from others, it still is a near impossiblity to get a program installed (such as msn) It just feels like i am going round in circles, and I thought mandrake might be a bit more user friendly. (this thread here shows my troubles http://www.linuxquestions.org/questi...hreadid=107732)
" I thought mandrake might be a bit more user friendly. (this thread here shows my troubles"
I read the thread and I would say that you are past the raw newbie stage and would benefit from reading "Running Linux" published by O'Reilly. Then Linux would not appear to you as a bundle of disjoint commands.
I started my Linux experience with Mandrake (8.2 way back then) and thought it was a good way to start. I now use ALT Linux Junior 2.2 and, if it was around when I started as a newbie, I would have recommended it to myself.
I find it's use of Synaptic to install software is much easier than the Mandrake RPM package handler. ALT Linux configured to all of my PC's hardware without a hitch. Mandrake had problems with my Nvidia card, although I did get it to work after a few hours of reading and tinkering. And, as I just recently posted, the ALT Linux support community is a very helpful resource when problems arise.
Two and a half years ago I was in the same situation that you seem to be in now.... a MS-Windows user just entering the world of Linux. I've learned allot since then and I see myself sticking with ALT Linux for a long time to come.
I hope your future journeys with Linux are prosperous!