Ok, the only bit I found of how to do what I suggested in my previous post is this
> # cd /home
> # tar cvfz /home-backup.tar.gz .< Note the dot, it's important
> # cd
> # cd /home
> # tar xcfz /home-backup.tar.gz (no dot need this time)
at this point, it didn't like "xcfz" it replied something about only a
certain number of actruxz (and a few others) switch(es) so I tried the
one that I've used in the past when untarring stuff xvzf, which seemed
to work (well it appears to have as I'm typing this from my /home at the
The above is the bit that was about compressing the /home (I just chopped out the other bits where I was doing the partitioning).
So the stages, well as you can see from the # I had to cd into my /home directory, then did the tar command, then cd out of the /home. I'm presuming that that is the point where you would be doing the distro change/install - if you are gonna use a distro that has a graphic installer, then its easy just to tell the installer not to format that part of the hard drive where you have your /home. You then just have to make sure further down the line that you can mount the /home partition, as far as I understand, you just have to use the same username, plus you have to nominate the /home by putting an entry into your /etc/fstab.
When you then get to log in for the first time (again provided you've used the same username) then you should be able to check whether you have the stuff that you wanted to keep still in the /home. If you have, and after testing it, you then don't need to do the second part of the above (the bit in between the cd and the cd /home prior to where it says tar xcfz......). Because you will have managed to do retain the /home info/settings/customisation/data
If you find that you have problems, then that's the stage where you'd have to format the /home partition and then get the compressed /home-backup.tar.gz file and copy it into the new /home and uncompress it. from there you would probably find that you end up with /home/home/username - but you can the at least just move the files and/or directories to the correct place and then delete the backed up stuff.
Sorry if thats not very well explained, but I can't think of any other way to explain it!
hope that helps a bit