Ok so currently I'm running Windows 7 64 bit. I want to get Linux Ubuntu on here as a dual boot. I already have a free partition made on my HD (650 GB total HD, 260 GB on the partition). Basically, I guess I need to know what I should back up, and how I should do it. Do I need to copy anything into this partition or can I just install Linux onto the partition I made?
Erm... Ubuntu is generally installed through a LiveCD which contains a CD-compatible version (or introduction version if you will) of Ubuntu. You can search the web on Ubuntu without even having Ubuntu installed in a hard drive.
What do you intend to do with Linux, and what are your computer specs? You may be much better to run it virtualised than dual boot. I run Debian Stable in VirtualBox on my Mac on a separate desktop. I give it 1GB RAM, 1 vcpu, and it makes no noticeable difference to my computer. I just swipe 3 fingers to get between operating systems.
You should have two partitions for Linux, one being Linux itself and the other being the swap (If you want it). If you put an Ubuntu CD and reboot you should get to the Gparted screen, in which you select the main partition, choose the type to be Ext4, check 'format' and set the mount pount to / (Root). Then you click on the swap partition and use it as a swap area. Your swap shouldn't really take over 4GB, usually a lot less. You probably don't even need it.
I'm on a laptop, 6 GB DDR3 ram, core i5 x4 2.53 MHz. I can upgrade to 8 GB of ram. 650 GB HDD. Owned it for about 6 months, not sure where to even start for getting Linux set up on here. My potential internship employer recommended I get a version of Linux and write some stuff on it.
If you have 6 GB don't bother with the swap. If you have a new partition made, you should probably make it an Ext4 journaling system (The partition software should have an option for this). Alternatively, this can be left for the installer. I've used some partitioning software on Windows, but I'm not sure whether it actually shows you the /dev names of the partitions. Check everywhere and write down the partition names that are something like /dev/sdaX, where X is a number. (The second word could be anything). You'll want to remember the /dev/sda number of the Linux partition that you want. If you can't get it, then format that partition to Ext4, and the Ubuntu installer should make it clear which one it is.
Then get a Ubuntu torrent or download it just like that. It's an .iso file, version at your discretion. Once you have it, the site has very clear instructions on how to burn it into a CD. Make sure you have a low write speed. After that, leave the CD in the drive and reboot. You'll wait a few seconds while a horizontal cursor blinks, then you get a line that says ISOLINUX, or not. Then there's the installer. Choose all your options, and at the partition table, if you set the partition you want to put Linux in to ext4, it should say so (Windows ones, the ones you don't touch, are 'ntfs'-labelled in the second column. Lowercase). Alternatively, you could just write down your partition's size in MB and select the one you want. Click on 'Change...', select the filesystem type from a drop-down menu (Ext4 at the top), check 'Format', select the slash on the Mount Point drop-down menu, and off you go.
If your wireless gives you shit, use your Windows partition to search for an answer, or ask back here. If the screen resolution is shitty, you need to agree to install third-party drivers (This should pop up on its own).
You won't need to do any partition on your disk, as VirtualBox will create a normal file on your hard disk, where that file contains your Ubuntu hard disk. In the initial setup, say something like 20GB, you won't need more than that. Allocate it 1-2GB of your RAM depending on whether you want to do a load of graphical stuff with it or not.
just simply download an .iso image burn it to a cd/dvd and then put it in the dvd drive and restart pc. then go to boot menu and choose the dvd drive. Then it will boot into a system that it threw onto RAM so you are going to have to run the icon on the desktop to install the system. Then it will ask you a few personalisation questions. Then pick a free remaining space as the place for your new linux system and install it there. done :)
Running a VM is slower and slightly more hassle as far as it running in a window that you must move/resize often. Performance is still good on modern machines. The benefits are that VMs can move easily backed up, moved to another machine, and opened/closed faster than rebooting a dual boot machine. Sharing files between the OSes may be easier using a VM. For example, VMware Player has tools that enable drag and drop in and out of the VM. This option is likely best for Windows users who want to use some Linux apps.
A dual-boot will perform better and help a user leave Windows behind, IMO. Windows is still available "just in case." This option is likely better suited for Linux users that occasionally still need to run Windows applications. Sharing files between them involves setting up a shared partition or using external media (flash drive).
That's all that comes to mind at the moment. Both are viable options (and they're pretty cool). If the user is into software development, VMs can be handy to have separate testbeds of various platforms or to run multiple VMs to test distributed systems all locally.
Hmm this task seems like kind of a pain. Do I need to pick up a flash drive to do all this? All the discs I have at my house are old 512 MB. I would like to have a dual boot machine (it's what we have at my university and I like how it works there).
While you are 'learning' Linux, I would be far more tempted to use something like VirtualBox over duel booting...but even more tempted to buy a cheap second hand PC and have a dedicated 'play thing'. When it comes to messing with configurations and possibly trashing the install it is far better to insulate it from your main OS as possible. NB: I'm assuming that you will want to learn sys admin stuff. ;0)
I use the tool at http://www.pendrivelinux.com and install from USB (assuming your hardware can boot from USB). I don't see a problem with using VM to access a linux gcc or even a kde workstation with kbuilder. I do have a dual boot (bought a third hard drive specifically) as I prefer working in the native OS to a window... also I'm just not sure how the VM construct handles all hardware. We have a few custom boards that don't have a windows driver so I'm pretty sure we couldn't access them in a VM without a driver for the windows HAL.
If you have enough disk space for it and a modern machine, VirtualBox is an attractive option; especially if you want to evaluate different distributions of Linux. Fedora is worth considering. I have found that yum, which is a definite improvement over Red Hat Package Manager (rpm files), is a very useful tool for installing applications.