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First, you need to decide on a distribution you want to install. For most people starting out, Red Hat or Mandrake seem to be the most popular. If you do a search, you should find a ton of threads where some asked "what's the best distro".
I'm going to assume you pick one of those distros for the rest of this. Typically, you don't need to do anything to the hard drive you want to install linux on to aside from physically connecting it in your machine. Red Hat and Mandrake will have bootable installation CDs. The utilities in the install will partition the second drive drive for you as well as formatting it with a linux filesystem. Other distributions may require a more hands-on approach. Then go on about choosing what software you want to install.
The boot manager tends to be a rough spot for new folks for some reason. I guess it's because one mis-step means you can't easily boot into one of your operating systems. Anyway, there are two popular boot loaders: lilo and grub. I don't know which Mandrake defaults to, but Red Hat defaults to grub. Anyway you're essentially given two options when installing: install a boot loader or don't. If you choose NOT to install a boot loader, then you MUST use a boot floppy to load linux.
Installing to the hard drive will give you two more options: install to the MBR or install to the boot sector of your second HD. If you install to the MBR, then you overwrite the loader that Windows uses (assuming that's the other OS). If the boot loader isn't configured properly, then you might not be able to boot Windows. There are LOTS of threads about people having problems with boot loaders. If you'd like to feel more secure, I'd suggest reading a couple of them. Then you can decide whether you want to try the MBR or stick with a boot disk...
Sorry messed up there. Thanks for the post it was helpful. I'm still kind of confused by the Boot manager. I know this probably sounds like a total idiot question but how would you go about making the floppy?
The install process for either Red Hat or Mandrake will prompt you to make a boot disk. They might refer to it as a rescue disk... same thing. I believe it's pretty much standard in all distros to present you with an option to create a boot disk during install. Some distros will have a folder on the CD containing boot disks images as well. They should provide a README or similar document to guide you making them that way. Finally, there's also a mkbootdisk command you can use from the linux command line. I'm not that familiar with it myself, but you can read all about it by typing "man mkbootdisk" from a linux command line.
Ok, the MBR is the very first sector on the bootable hard drive in your system. That's where Windows puts its boot loader. If a boot manager installs itself there, then you're letting it overwrite the Windows boot sequence in favor of its own. Meaning you trust it will be able to boot all the operating systems on your machine (linux, Windows, or anything else). It can do that. Plenty of people have made it work (myself included). To get it to work, you must provide the boot manager with the information it needs to locate all the operating systems you have. If the configuration is wrong, it won't be able to load the OS. The OS will still be on the hard drive along with all your data, but you just won't be able to access it until the config file for the boot manager is correct. Typically, the boot manager will configure itself well enough to boot linux. There have been mixed results in getting it to recognize Windows or other OSes on the first go-round. The people here have seen MANY posts from people in a panic because they can't boot Windows, and as far as I know, all were solved with a little patience.
If you want the simplest approach, make the bootdisk and use it to load linux. Once you get comfortable with it (or annoyed with the boot disk), then consider installing the boot manager. You can always post another thread up here, and the folks here will be more than willing to help you get it working like a champ.
Man thanks so much! You have really helped. I'm mostly into web/graphic design and have no background in Linux. Even though I'm great with Windows and OSX, Linux always seemed like something I should get to know. SO I'm going to take that plunge. I selected Redhat even though hearing 8.0 has let some people down. From what I saw Redhat seemed to have the best support. And from my posts I'm sure you can tell I'm going to need all the help I can get!