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You really should try Knoppix first. You don't need to install anything on your disk or change it in any way.
Just download the iso image, burn it to a cdr or cdrw and then reboot with the crd or cdrw in your drive.
Knoppix comes up instead of xp and you get to play with it, see what it can do - connect to the web, play games whatever.
If you don't like it give the image disk to someone else who might like it.
You'll still have xp on your computer.
If you decide to go for one of the other distros, you need to make space on your hard drive, then add partitions for linux - still leaving xp available.
What I mean by making space, is - it's like your hardrive is a big room with xp in it like furniture. You've got to move all the furniture to one end of the room so you can put in partition walls to create other smaller rooms, within the same space. Or think of drawing a square on a sheet of paper then drawing 2 lines inside the square to divide it into 4 smaller squares.
XP stays inside one of the squares and you use the others for linux.
I saw somewhere there are now over 9 million users with Mandrake now, and there are all the other distros as well. Most of these millions of people probably still also have MS windows on their computers 'just in case' -although they might not want to admit it.
It is safe - so long as you take all sensible precautions like making backups of your current system etc.
I know how you feel though, it's a lot scary when you're getting started and you are going to make changes to a very expensive bit of equipment.
i would try knoppix but i have 56k and its like 600mb do u know how long that will take?!?........... ive ordered redhat9 and i should get it on monday (my pc is compaq and redhat is now run by compaq) so that helps to
thnx but i just found out that i cant patition my harddrive as its under a 6 year garuntee so thats screwed up but ive got s solution ill wipe my old hardrive and shove linux on there to test it out thnx for your help
That's a new one on me. Does the guarantee specifically say it is void if you repart. the drive? Do you have to leave it exactly the way it was part'ed when you received it? Did you buy this drive individually or as part of a system?
no i hate dell it sux ass i have a compaq presario 6540, ah i just figured it out rememer the bloke in the store saying that if i chucked water over my comp they would replace it so by theory it shouldnt matter but ill check it out first ill find the garantee form today and post what it says ok?!?