After the last foray into the world of Linux I swore I wouldn't bother for another year or so. Somehow I came across a link to Wubi and decided it sounded too interesting to ignore.
Live CDs are not really practical for doing anything much more than a cursory look and installing to a partition is too much work. Wubi is a very clever 'third way', installing a distro as if it is a Windows application, yet actually allowing the OS to start from the Windows boot screen, at full speed. Clever stuff. It uses a virtual disk (like VMware), which the Wubi creators admit will make file I/O slightly slower.
Wubi is set up to work with Ubuntu Linux, which most people will experience via Gnome and the rather, er, brown theme. Ubuntu is also available with KDE but there's a third alternative, Xubuntu, which uses the xfce window manager. I like this even more because it's lighter/faster than either of the others, and offers just enough functionality, without getting in my way. I simply don't need (or want) a lot of silly 3D desktop effects, nor a hundred different ways of playing media files.
I simply ran the installer and selected Xubuntu. Some time later, it was ready. Reboot, select Xubuntu, and there it was. Amazing! Even more amazing was the fact that Xubuntu located all the laptop hardware including the sound and WLAN chipsets. As soon as I selected the network applet, it offered to connect me to my home WLAN. I was running and connected to the internet in minutes. No other installer/distro combination has got even close to being this good. Xubuntu is excellent - I have had no difficulty in installing the extras I need (Java JDK, OpenOffice and Netbeans, for example) via Synaptic.
There is a way to convert the Wubi install to something more permanent using LVPM. I will probably do this, but only when I've sorted out the partitioning of the drive - a chore I'm not looking forward to.