debian not for newbies ????
Well, in truth, I'd say that you're not totally correct.
Well, most linux people, who've been "at it" for more than 10 minutes, will have heard of Knoppix. Now it's easy to presume that knoppix is only a "live cd" distro, but a little research should lead you to their forums
, which has a wealth of info about installing to hard disc.
Knoppix is debian based, it has (arguably) the best hardware detection. QED, a hard disc install gives you a reasonably well configured "instant" debian based system (and hard disc installing knoppix is almost as easy as installing mandrake).
Yes, I'd agree with you 100% when it comes to "proper" debian, that can be very hard work. As can say, Gentoo. But, the upside is that both debian's apt-get and gentoo's portage package managers, are considerably better than mandrake and SuSE using rpm (and yes mandrakes urpmi is better than normal rpm, but not without it's problems).
As for you having multiple linux distro's, well yes it is definitely possible - I've only done it with lilo as my boot loader (I couldn't get my head round the differing nomenclature used by grub).
I've also heard that there is a way of installing a boot loader that will detect ALL other installed OS's - again, how? I'm not sure.
It should work something along the lines of making sure that you have boot/root and swap partitions, the boot and swap are common. The boot partition has the details of the kernel versions and init files (Ithink thats right), the boot loader should still be on the first section of the mbr. Hence if the bootloader can see the various pieces of info required to boot the various installed OS's, then it should be able to boot "them".
There's also the matter of whether the various OS's can actually "see" each other, I seem to recall something about listing them in their respective fstab's, but can't remember whether there's anything else you'd need to do.
What you could do to be getting on with, would be say install 1 distro with XP, for a standard dual boot, then another on a free partition - but make sure that you make boot floppies for each one, then even if it takes you a while to work out the required config/setup, you should still be able to run the various distro's even if you have to reboot with the floppy - worth a try.
Hope this helps you in the right direction.