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To start off, I am strictly a Windows user. I've used a Mac, and especially never used Linux before. However, I would like to learn more about Linux in general, and I figured the best way to do this is to dual boot Windows XP, but I've got a few questions.

Can you partition a hard drive which already has an operating system on it? I've got Windows XP installed on my harddrive, and my total harddrive usage is around 56GB (out of 465GB LOL). It is just set up as having one hard drive (the C: drive), am I able to partition this hard drive without losing my install of windows (and all my files?). I would then install Linux on the other partition.

What is the most user-friendly Linux Distro? I'd like to install a Linux Distro that would hopefully have most things already configured, and loaded with necessary programs and drivers such as a wireless internet driver.

How can I back up my entire hard drive? I'd like to back up my entire hard drive to some sort of external media (be it 20 DVD's or an external hard drive), so if something goes wrong, I can wipe the hard drive, copy the 'image' back onto it, and I'd have my installation of Windows (with all programs, settings + drivers already installed.) Is this possible?

Will my hardware work with Linux? For exmaple, I have a Wireless Network Adapter, and it has a Windows driver. Would it get automatically installed on Linux? How about my Microsoft Wireless Keyboard + Mouse?

Thanks. I really want to try Linux, but I'm a bit worried about completely destroying my hard drive. I've got some quite important information on there.

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7 Answers 7

First off, you should take a look at Ubuntu with the WUBI installer. Now lets answer your sub-questions :).

Can you partition a hard drive which already has an operating system on it?

Yes, and most Linux distributions include tools that will do this for you easily, and without negatively impacting your Windows data right inside the installer. WUBI will install Ubuntu just like any other Windows program without impacting your partitions at all.

What is the most user-friendly Linux Distro?

Ubuntu is probably the most popular at this point, I recommend it strongly as it is built on a very solid base (Debian) and it was designed to be user-friendly.

How can I back up my entire hard drive?

I would get an external USB hard drive and copy data to that. Thank you for considering this before you start!

Will my hardware work with Linux?

Probably. Most common hardware is well supported, and improvements are made in this area every day. Ubuntu's wiki has a comprehensive guide on hardware compatibility.

Hardware compatibility is a hard problem on all Operating Systems, not just Linux. Linux just has a reputation for not having strong hardware support. This is a fault of the hardware manufacturers, not Linux.

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3  
Just to clarify, the major advantage of wubi is that there is no repartitioning it runs from a file within the existing partition structure. All that happens is you get a big file (several gig) that is your Ubuntu install. –  Col Aug 27 '09 at 15:00
    
+1 woot! Yes hardware is a problem on all OS's... funny that ppl don't realize that, I guess they've never tried to install windows from scratch. –  codeLes Aug 27 '09 at 16:13
    
@codeLes Its also a reason why Macs "just work" - Apple doesn't have to support a driver model for dozens of different vendors' hardware. Sure there's some for external devices, but not for the "core" (network, video, etc). –  jtimberman Aug 27 '09 at 16:29

Yes, you can partition a hard drive that already has an OS on it. That is how you dual boot. I would recommend Ubuntu if you want some-thing user friendly. But then again, if you want to learn about coding more, get something that will require you to use the terminal and commands more. You can back up your entire hard drive. One option would be to create another partition using a free download-able service (find one at downloads.com) and copy all you files to the back-up partition. Another would be to back-up the files to a portable hard-drive. You won't need to partition your hard drive for Ubuntu, the installer will do it for you, making it much lesser stressful to do. Wubi is a good option if you just want to see what Ubuntu looks like without doing anything serious. Do some online research about partitions and what they are if you would like to feel more comfortable partitioning your drive, as you can lose data. Oh, and one last thing, when you install Ubuntu, it will be set as the main OS. Look up some GRUB info and find out how to set the default OS and work with the list of options for boot you will be given. Furthermore, remember that if you remove Ubuntu, make sure to remove GRUB, because otherwise you won't be able to boot.

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I'd suggest the Wubi installer as jtimberman suggests... but let's address each of your questions.

Can you partition with an existing OS? Yes. and most modern Linux distros will do this for you during the install (Ubuntu's is very straight forward)

Backing up your hard drive? This should really be a separate question

Most user friendly Linux distro? Ubuntu really seems to have the edge here, but there have been leaps of progress in desktop Linux so you can do a little research at DistroWatch to see what fits you best. But I'd suggest Ubuntu. But it doesn't come with the standard MP3 and Flash stuff you'll be used to with windows.. a quick search will get you the VERY EASY solution to that.

Will my hardware work? Easiest way to find out without me making you list ALL of your important pieces with Manufacturer and Version is to just download the ISO for a liveCD (Just about all modern desktop Linux distros have one) and burn it to a disk. Make sure you're setup to boot from your CD/DVD drive and boot into it. This will give you a test run of the OS and show you what pieces of hardware you'll have problems with. If a piece doesn't seem to work don't fret! bring that piece to Google and SuperUser, you'll find your answer.

Have fun Linuxing!

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If you want a distribution with Flash and Java installed by default you can opt for Linux Mint –  Luc125 Sep 8 '11 at 12:54

Have you considered running a distro of Linux in a VM? It's seems the easiest way of doing it, because it does not involve repartitioning, dual booting, losing data; you also get a sense of how the OS would work if it was really directly installed on a PC.

Another great thing is that you can work in both operating systems at the same time; it was very easy to just switch between XP and the OpenSuse that was running in the VM when doing development. Try VirtualBox; it's free and works quite well.

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+1 for common sense –  Manos Dilaverakis Aug 28 '09 at 8:59

Will my hardware work with Linux?

Probably. It is always possible to have a whacky or less supported piece of hardware which does not have a driver supplied in your distribution, although this gets less and less likely with more popular, personal user oriented distributions such as Ubuntu. I still can't get CentOs to recognize my network card, which is a drag because it might be possible (and relatively easy) to find the driver online if I were already connected to the internet. But it isn't worth it for me, as Ubuntu recognizes it with no problem.

But seriously, you'd be surprised how interoperable things are these days. This isn't 1997 when all peripherals worked for PC or mac but not both.

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How can I back up my entire hard drive?

As far as backing up your hard drive specifically - I would strongly recommend you look into an imaging solution. That way you can go back to exactly how things were befure you started tinkering in the even that something goes wrong. There are many free options. I am rather partial to the open source (linux based) Clonezilla. There is also driveimageXML and countless others. An image will capture you computer exactly as it is, and allow you to restore it to the point later. More info on that here and a walk through here

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People keep giving me their old machines that XP much less Vista just doesn't work very well on anymore and I put either Linux Mint, my fav right now or ubuntu on it (them) as I now have 3 so called outdated machines and Linux runs beautifully on them. No software to buy. I found a discarded printer at a garage sale and plugged it in and it works just fine after cleaing it up a bit and adding new ink.

What's not to like. Linux is different to people that have had MS shoved down their throats for so long, but as was said it's not 1997 anymore and the distros just get better and better and amazingly they work with no fears and hassles like you have with MS.

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