Posted 18 February 2010 - 10:20 PM
I concur with Garmanma.
The install programs of most Linux distributions will detect an existing Windows installation and by default offer you to install Linux parallel to it. This is definitely the case with OpenSuse, Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint, and surely many others. While I have been faithful to Suse for many years I admit that the above distros are also excellent. I was very tempted to replace my trusty old Suse with Mint just recently.
You should first try Linux from a live CD to see how good the distro is at discovering your hardware. There are some differences between distributions in this respect. While one distro may be better at detecting some hardware another distro may be better at discovering other hardware. So you may want to try out several different distros. No worries: your hard drive will not be touched, and from a live cd it is actually quite difficult to access it. For safety reasons the windows partition is hidden while you are running from the live CD. Once the distribution is installed you will have full access to the windows partition again - read and write.
Live CDs are easy to get. Find them in computer magazines or download the ISO images from the vendor (free of charge and absolutely legal!) and burn them yourself. When you have confirmed that the distro can correctly detect and configure your hardware you can simply click on an "install to disk" icon on the desktop and, zoom, there you go! Most distros have matured to the point where installation is so easy that nearly anone can do it.
Initially Windows will have claimed the entire hard disk for itself, so you will have to - like it or not - repartition your disk. But that is easy nowadays. The installation program includes a partitioning tool which makes the task abslutely trivial and I have found that the suggestions the installation program makes are usually very sensible. In most cases it is fine to just accept the proposal, but if you want to allocate less to linux, keeping more for Windows it is just a matter of dragging a slider one way or the other or typing the gigabytes into a field. Just defragment the disk before you begin installing so that there will be enough contiguous empty space for a new partition.
Once you have completed the installation a boot manager menu will appear each time you boot, letting you select the operating system you want to boot into (e.g. Windows, or Linux, or others). Some people select linux only for certain specific purposes (e.g. safer internet access) and use their Windows for all other purposes, others make a slow transition, booting Linux more and more until they finally use linux exclusively, and others abandon linux and stay with Windows. You are free to choose.
But even if you decide you want to stay with Windows after all, don't erase the linux partition. There may come a day when you need it: malware infection! It can be extremely helpful to have linux on the same computer when malware disables all your security programs, prevents access to anti virus sites or the internet altogether, and prevents you from deleting its own files. You may just be able to boot into linux, run a virus scanner and delete or quarantine files, download the files you need from the internet and save them to a directory in the Windows partition, communicate in this forum, etc ... No malware in the Windows partition will be aware of what you are doing while under Linux. You are free again to delete whatever files you want without the malware being able to interfere.
One word of warning, though! If you have to reinstall windows don't expect to be able to simply boot Linux again, e.g. for copying backups back to the Windows partition. Windows is a rogue in that respect. It will wipe out the MBR and install itself as if it were alone. Next time you boot there will be no boot manager to let you choose. You will simply be taken to Windows. Though you will be able to get your linux back intact with a little bit of work, it is better to have the backups on a separate medium. Of course you can run Linux from windows but what good is that if the virus won't let you use windows? That's why I advocate a separate installation.
Hope to have given you some encouragement.