I've recently been inspired to take the plunge into screwing around with Linux. Today I installed the Wubi release of Ubuntu, which installs a filesystem into a single big file under XP, and is removable by the XP Add/Remove programs dialog. The machine then becomes a dual boot operation without having messed with disk partitions or anything scary like that. And the nice thing is that the Linux installation, because it just looks like a moderately large file to XP, can be backed up along with all of my other XP stuff using my current methods.
So far, I'm quite impressed; this is a real operating system instead of a Microsoft junkpile. So far, all of the usual stuff seems to work: Firefox, YouTube, Flickr, Blogger, etc. Right now I am listening to some Brian Eno ambient music via Lala.com.
One very pleasant surprise was that Linux recognized my USB 2.0 ethernet adaptor (which I got when the built-in Ethernet port blew out when I was away on vacation last year), so there were no problems getting on the Web, which was utterly crucial to get the setup working, since I had to do many problem-solving searches on Google to get things tweaked in.
All that being said, this is not for the faint of heart. You really have to be ready to roll up you sleeves and search for answers when a few things do not work right. For example, it took me many hours to get Linux to run my Nvidia adapter at 1024x768 75Hz. Not recommended for non-software professionals or for anyone that does not have at least passing familiarity with Unix.
Still, I'm quite impressed overall, considering this is all absolutely free! It's also cool that the exact same box I run XP on can also be a Unix machine, depending on how I boot it up.