wow. that was a lot to read and grasp lol. lets give it a shot.
first off if you only wanted to try linux, you should just download a live-cd like the one from http://www.knoppix.org/
and try it out (it runs slow because its from a cd keep in mind). Beyond that lets see
If you have a linux boot floppy that can get you to a command prompt we may be able to help you...do you?
The first computer stopping at "enabling swap [ok]" is either not really stopped and you just aren't waiting long enough or there is either something wrong with your hard drive, partition, swap file system, or lba-linux just isn't that great maybe (I have no experience with it). If you want to try linux (after trying knoppix) try Fedora, Mandrake, or SuSE...I would say SuSE because it has YaST (a program like the control panel in XP but w/ much more categories and it is also a partition magic clone...so if you let SuSE partition on its own it won't have any problems that maybe partition magic was at fault for and it also comes precompiled with NTFS drivers)
You couldn't boot to linux because you didn't install GRUB, LILO, or make a boot disk most likely, or you installed it to the wrong place (try GRUB in the Master boot record, AKA MBR). Windows cannot read linux partitions natively...there are programs that will read them from windows for you (explore2fs is the one I know of that works). As for retrieving the data if you have formated the drive it pretty much gone...if you only converted the filesystem you may be able to convert back...I am not exactly sure I understand all that you did to this hard drive...tell us some more specifics
I Highly recomend a different distro that is designed to sit next to windows like the ones I mentioned