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You won't be able to find out what the password is but you can change it. First you'll have to boot with a rescue CD or the installation CD, then you chroot into the root partition of the machine and run passwd. I've done this before.
I would follow the steps first given by jefro, you'd only be going to the steps given by ramram29 if the steps Jefro gave didn't work but even so you probably don't need a liveCD their are ways to load single user mode and depending on your distribution, single user mode may not be passworded anyways.
No psmc, It's a very very easy thing to change the root password in Linux when you have physical access, you just need to know how to do it.
I think entering single-user mode, can resolve the problem (if it is not password-protected).
AFter entering into single user mode, you can change the password for root. I think that I tried this way once, and that worked for me when I lost root password for my RHEL-5 machine.
I'm assuming he cannot log into the laptop since he does not know the root password. Therefore 'sudo su' will not work - that only works after you login. If the root password needs to be reset then the only choice is through a rescue CD like I said aboved. I've done it like half a dozen times.