March 4, 2007
I’m the first to say that Linux has a way to go before it will unseat Windows, but it’s a lot closer that it’s ever been. I generally recommend trying a Live CD version first – that’s a Linux you can run from the CD without installing – to see if it supports your hardware fully. Lack of hardware support is the chief issue for new users.
HP makes drivers for its hardware for Windows, but does not for Linux. Getting your hardware to work means finding a user contributed driver.
Laptop compatibility is more difficult than desktop since laptops often use unusal hardware. I recommend a visit to Linux on Laptops, http://www.linux-laptop.net/, for specifics about which Linux distros work best for your laptop.
March 3, 2007
There is a site called Linux on Laptops [http://linux-on-laptops.com/]which has a directory of laptops with recommendations for a distribution and what problems you may encounter. There is always trouble when you want to dual boot. Before setting that up, defragment the Windows partition. A good thing to do would be to wipe the drive, install Windows, and then install Linux. Here is a tutorial [http://www.matthewjmiller.net/howtos/dual-boot-linux-and-windows/]to dual-boot Windows and Linux on a Toshiba laptop.
September 8, 2006
You can download a bunch of Linux distributions from http://www.linuxiso.org. They can be very tricky to install, though. SuSE is the easiest to install, and most complete distro. Red Hat Fedora and Mandriva are also good. Debian and Slackware for intended for experienced Linux users. Gentoo is pretty cool. And SimplyMEPIS is an up and comer. I do recommend using a Live CD distribution first, such as Knoppix because you can try it without actually installing it.