Reading a recent post to a Red Hat newsgroup, it occurred to me that partitioning isn't necessarily the most straight-forward thing to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
You've looking at your Windows box, looking at these distribution CD's for Linux, thinking "This is a lot better than washing the car..."
I'm most familiar with Red Hat, so I'll refer to that installation process.
You put in the CD and reboot. CD doesn't boot? Check your BIOS; you might have to change the order it checks for boot devices.
CD boots? Great. Red Hat must be about as friendly as they come since *I* didn't have any major trouble with it...At least not after I sorted out partitions. First time around though, when I got to the partitioning section, I started to get nervous. Lose all data on the disk? No thanks! Keep in mind that that could always be a risk, even using friendly partitioning software that can shrink a partition for you.
So I'll describe what one might call "an ultra-safe repartitioning with the goal of a box you can dual-boot Windows/Linux."
My 6GB hard drive was nearly full and badly fragmented, so my first order of business was cleaning up and defragmenting the disk.
With this done, I performed a complete backup of the Windows side to 4 or 5 CDs, including recovery floppies to allow me to boot and restore from the backup. I also made a note of how much space the backup used so I could create a partition large enough for it later.
With everything safe (I went so far as to verify the backup set, of course), I was ready to boot to the Linux CD again.
Still a bit nervous as I get to the point of partitioning, but I can handle it.
I opted to use fdisk. Disk Druid, the GUI alternative, should be even easier than fdisk, so feel free.
I'll have to doublecheck some fdisk commands, but it's rather simple. My entire 6GB was one partition, so first thing was to delete that partition.
h Probably gives help p Prints the current partitions d Deletes a partition
Now then, have to make some partitions. First I made a FAT32 partition for Windows.
[Info on primary/extended & mount points to come]
c ?Creates a new partition
Then at least one ext2 partition for / (Linux)
Then a swap partition for Linux
Nice to have some documentation here so you can refer to various recommendations of putting /usr on one partition, /var on another and all that jazz. One partition was enough for me as I'm just learning, not administering an important system.
You can experiment here. One really nice thing about fdisk is that no changes are saved to the disk until you say so. I created and deleted partitions many times due to changing my mind about sizes.
At last I was ready to go...
w Writes the changes. Wave goodbye to what was there before.
Then you can proceed with the Linux installation...
And when you're good and ready, use your backup to put Windows back on a partition by itself.
Free space on a drive is NOT unpartitioned space. If you've got 10gigs free on C:, that 10 gigs is part of that C: partition. If you go into fdisk thinking you can just designate that 10gigs as a new partition, you're...well, wrong.
There are ways to install Linux ON a Windows partition, but I don't see why you'd want to. Seek ye the docs and ye shall find.
If you're referring to this FAQ and something goes wrong with your backup/restore, I'm very sorry. You didn't need Windows anyway.