Well - I started with dos, went to win 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, 3.11 and heard of linux. But I had a special harddrive-controller, not supported by linux so I had to stay 2 additional years at dos/win, till I got a new computer, sold with w95. There I installed my first linux and used it in parallel for the first years.
Today I have still a windows available, - it might be needed for a job. But my daily usage is nearly 100% linux.
Knowing to copy and to cd on the commandline in windows will help you getting started with linux. The commandline is a very usable and powerfull tool on linux - not a hidden curiosum.
It will depend on the time you may spend to teach yourself linux. Starting with a dual-boot is the securest for the beginning.
Here in germany we have often a distribution, not very known elsewhere, called 'knoppix' - one dvd sold in a computermagazin for 3�. If price matters.
But every distribution has it's pros and cons. Using one, which a friend uses, is the best advice I guess.
For dual-booting I use 'lilo' since years, which is included in this and most distros. There is a newcomer, 'grub' which is told to be fine and stable too. It's normally available too in the distros.
I'm sorry not to be able to recommend books. When I started I didn't had money for books, and later I didn't need a general introduction. I guess there are online-tutorials, forums, books en masse. Perhaps someone may advice a good beginners book.
If you know much of windows and dos - not where to click, but perhaps write c/ c++ - Programs, compile from commandline, set system variables, manage user permissions, start servers etc. - your starting point is more advanced, than for other newcomers.
Good distros install the man-pages, so 'man' will be your friend.
You are best off starting with a dual-boot system. You may find it easier to install Windows first, and then install linux, as most of the linux installations (Mandrake, Red Hat, Suse i've tried) recognize that there is another operating system on the hard drive and give you the option to make that OS the default OS for booting if you wish. If you install windows after installing linux, it will just overwrite the MBR, and you will have to manually configure your system to boot linux or use a Boot Manager of some kind.
I had a dual boot system at home for a long time, but I was using Linux for a bit of exploration once in a while, and the reason for that was that I did not have an internet connection at home, and so it was somewhat difficult to get the latest versions of software etc. But when I started using Linux at work, i was surprised after the first week when I realized that I didnt even notice making the switch from Windows to Linux.
And I am using Grub as Boot Manager, it comes packaged atleast with Suse, it is pretty good.
Knoppix is a great starter distribution because it is a bootable CD (or DVD!). Want a linux machine? Pop the disk into the CD and boot. Want a windows machine? Reboot. No fooling with boot loaders or partitioning your hard drive. No time-consuming install. It has a ton of tools too: Open Office word processor, Konqueror web browser, xmms MP3 player, xine video player, tons of utilities, programming tools and so on. I use it as a rescue disk. Check out Learning Debian GNU/Linux. It's a little dated, but it's free (and Knoppix is based on Debian, in case you go that route). I keep going back for the Bash shell reference. The command line is far more useful and powerful in Linux (and all *nix) than it is in Windows. Also, look at Yolinux. They have many tutorials and links to hundreds more. [ July 27, 2004: Message edited by: Joe Ess ]
Alright my CD burner doesn't work, but it still reads CDs. Is there anyway I can install Linux without burning a CD? Is there some way I can get it in the mail in CD format (this way I'd only have to pay for the shipping/handling)?