Originally Posted by pljvaldez
There's lots of guides out there and dual booting works pretty easily. I would recommend that your starting point be to download and run a "live" distro. It will run entirely from the CD drive (so it'll be a bit slower) and won't touch your hard drive (so it won't mess up XP). Download the *.iso image and select "burn disc from image" from your favorite windows CD burning program. I'd recommend PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, or Knoppix for a live CD. Go to distrowatch.com and you can read about them.
Then google around for "linux newbie guide" or go through RUTE
. The best way to learn is to just jump in. Once you're comfortable running linux, then you can work on installing it to the hard drive.
Though there certainly are as many different approaches one COULD take in picking a first distribution, I agree with you, and any of the distributions you suggest are good ones. Just to add noise and more conversation, there is another one I like - and use on a daily basis myself - even though I am an experienced user. I use SimplyMEPIS.
Back three or four years ago, I was using Libranet, a Debian based, very complete, desktop system that had a ton of software packages. It was easy, but not necessarily the easiest distribution around, but it allowed me to test all kinds of software. I used Libranet, for the most part, as my every day desktop system, but even back then, I wanted a straightforward, simple to install and use desktop system, especially in case I totally messed up my Libranet system.
Over time, I found MEPIS, later called SimplyMEPIS, to be effortless to install and very easy to use. Though I changed a few of the default settings it provided, I found it to be instantly useful to use, with a very functional desktop, one requiring virtually no additional setup to get things working.
When Libranet went out of business, it was natural that I elevate SimplyMEPIS as my default desktop.
I use the other distributions that you mention, and I like all of them, too.
I'd rank SimplyMEPIS and PCLinuxOS in a virtual lock, in terms of ease of installation and immediate usefulness, with Ubuntu right on their heels. I like the Kubuntu variation of Ubuntu.
Knoppix makes a terrific toolchest, and should be kept handy as a Live CD, especially to repair problems and issues. I rank it the lowest in terms of every day usefulness as a desktop system, though most certainly more than acceptable to use. But as a toolchest or toolkit, I rank it number one, definitely one to have handy.
There are many other Live CD distributions available, and most of them could also do the job. Nevertheless, I think you mention the most useful ones and I agree with your overall recommendation (even if it doesn't include MY personal favorite)! ;-)
RUTE definitely has some good guides. The Linux Documentation Project, http://tldp.org/
contains some good overall Linux documentation, and YoLinux http://www.yolinux.com/
has some great information on hardware, software, and various guides and tips as well.