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Wellcome to LQ,Anthony.
It's good to install Gnu/Linux distro on the logical partition and have XP on the primary,because that way dual booting shouldn't be a problem.Fat 32 file system isn't good for Gnu/Linux distros,I suggest that during installation you choose ext2 or 3 or raiserfs when formating that logical partition.Remember to install Grub boot loader on the MBR(master boot record) so that you have an option to choose what OS to boot.
I only can say that you'd always better to back up your data before doing this. Even though it now very often done, and in some cases all you have to do is insert the cd and press "yes" when required, it is still an operation with a degree of risk, something can go wrong.
After having backing up, you can first try ubuntu without installing it and see whether everything is ok (audio, video, and other periphericals) ...if you're happy, install.
Ubuntu will not sit on Fat32, it needs a Linux native format - unless you use WUBI, which is a program that will install Ubuntu under XP, as if it were just any other Windows program. Just leave some space empty, you can put on a file system while your are installing (I like ext3 or xfs, reiser tends to fragment after a while if it is used heavily). There really aren't any pitfalls providing you aren't so distracted as to tell the installer to use all of your drive. One tip, though: create a separate "home" partition. Separating root ("/") and ("home") will save you a lot of work if you ever need to reinstall. Just reinstalling the root partition means you can leave your personal data ("home") alone.
I have an unformatted 50GB logical partition that I intend to format as FAT32 and dual boot both XP and Ubuntu.
I assume from this that you have Windows on another partition.
For Linux, you will want something like ext3, not FAT32. Also, you will need 2 partitions--one for swap space, the other for the root filesystem. The installer will have options for setting all this up.
With 50GB free, I would give Linux 8-10 GB, and leave the rest empty for future changes---eg adding a partition of shared data.
Location: Somewhere inside 9.9 million sq. km. Canada
Distribution: Slackware 14.1
First of all, delete the partiton, or shrink it to allow for room for a linux install. Understand, linux can read and write fat32, but linux permissions can not be stored there. So you would create a very insecure linux system. Linux uses its own file systems, and a confusing thing at first is all these file systems to choose from. Well, Ubuntu will default to ext2 ( I believe ). Use it for your first attempt. In fact Ubuntu's installer will ( if you accept defaults ) create 3 partitions, one for root, shown as a '/'. This is where the system goes. One for swap. Once for /home. The home partition is where all your stuff goes, and any other users you may add. It is good to have a fat32 partition, if you have data files to share between linux and windows. So, your choice if you leave a fat32 partition. As far as how to divide it up, if you use Ubuntu's defaults, first time, they will work and give you a working system.
If I were you, I would take 10 gig for fat only, unless you have more stuff to share. Of the 40, 10 gig is more that enough for the / partition. Swap is no more than 2 times your ram size. ie 1 gig of ram, 2 gig swap. (probably more swap than you need ). The rest goes to /home.
Pitfalls. Check out your hardware before you try an install. You need to know things like the video card, or chip set on the system board, sound card or chip set etc. These are the things that give most people problems. Most first time installers just barrel ahead, install, and then try to figure out 'why doesn't it work?'. Research first.
If I were you, look around ( google ) for an installation walk through. They are out there, fully commented, to show you what to expect from the install. It isn't all that hard, just a different mind set to windows. In linux you do not re-install to fix everything. You don't need to re-boot all the time. These are windoze mentalities.
I'm sure you will get lots of advice here. Sift through it, use your best judgement, search first for answers, then ask the best question you can. Provide as much information on the problem you face. That will get you the best help, in the least amount of time.
I only thought of FAT32 as I had heard somewhere that Linux does not like NTFS, but ext3 it is.
As far as Linux using the logical partition, it is really just a prolonged trial run so the install can do what it wants although your suggestions seem like good advice.
So partition the logical partition as 20GB linux system with 4GB Swap (2GB physical ram) both formatted using ext3. The remainder as a share formatted with FAT32. With GRUB installed for dual boot. XP being on its own partition formatted using NTFS.
As the thought of Vista leaves me a bit cold I am thinking of changing to Linux totally when support for XP ceases.
Location: Somewhere inside 9.9 million sq. km. Canada
Distribution: Slackware 14.1
So partition the logical partition as 20GB linux system with 4GB Swap (2GB physical ram)
The swap partiton does not need to be 4 gig, 1 gig is more than enough. The old guide line, when we were running systems with 128 meg of ram was times 2. A 2 gig ram system will rarley ever write anything to swap. Linux is not as memory hungry as windoze. As for file system on swap, it has its own file system. Don't worry about it, when you go thorough the installer, and tell it how big you want swap, the installer will create the partitions, format them, an install the necessary stuff.
I only thought of FAT32 as I had heard somewhere that Linux does not like NTFS
Here is some background. NTFS is a proprietary file system, ie Billy boy owns it. It is a good file system, however complicated in how it works. There has been a very safe read only driver for linux for some time, that means you could read data, but not write to the NTFS partiton.
A write driver was under development for ( I would guess over two years ). You could use it, but at your own risk... Not sure of the date, but about the middle of 2007, the write code became stable, and reliable. New distros come with the driver, and it works read and write. I think the driver is called g3-ntfs, some one else can post the exact name, but it is there.
The only time I touch windoze is to fix someone else's bugs. So I don't use the driver, in fact never did. I have one dual boot system and the shared partition on it is fat32.
The easiest way to determine if your hardware is compatible is to try it. Ubuntu is a live cd w/installer. Plug it in, reboot, and play with it for a while to make sure everything works. If so, then start the install.