Okay, so my system isn't exactly average. I have a Windows installation that is pretty close to the way it came in the box. I removed a couple things, added a very few, but mostly kept it as is for the purpose of having a reliable machine suitable for use with my work.
I did shrink the primary partition a good bit, no biggie since I had plenty of extra space and built a custom bootloader to kick over to a binary I later set up in that empty space.
I then loaded Linux in that space. I've tried many Linux distributions over the years. I think I started with RedHat back when they didn't have a home user suitable version. Then Fedora, their home user version. Mandriva, Suse, Debian, Gentoo and a handful of others. I tried the BSD stuff too, Free, Net and Open. These days I'm not so concerned with learning new ways that things can be done so switching around between distributions doesn't do me much good. I settled in with Ubuntu because they made it easy to use and have a good support and testing group. Then they switched over to Unity and that soured me on them, so I switched to Mint which was all the good stuff from Ubuntu and none of the ugliness that I got when I tried Unity.
Life has been good for a while. Today I noticed that there is a significant upgrade for Mint, so I made sure that important stuff was backed up (important!) and tried to do an online upgrade.
I think I missed a step or didn't think through the repercussions of upgrading the boot loader because after some errors and trying to force it... black screen.
So I booted into Windows, and got the new DVD version of the Mint installer. I put it on a USB stick with UNetBootin because that makes it fast and easy, if it works. It didn't. While that was downloading and loading, I tried to update Windows. This is a very common occurrence for me, but it failing isn't. A little research revealed that somehow the system tray failing to resize automatically was the culprit. So I switched the system tray settings to show everything and that allowed me to finish five of the six updates. The sixth installed fine after a reboot.
In between reboots I tried booting from my USB stick. UNetBootin works fine, but it doesn't successfully load my Mint DVD, so that was some wasted time. After booting back into Windows (and applying that missing update) I burned the DVD to a real DVD and rebooted to it. That's what I'm typing this from.
This screen is pretty much what I've come to expect from Mint. It handles multimedia fine. It recognizes and nicely handles my dual monitors. It has a friendly installer and can see and be customized to install in place of my previous installation without too much trouble... except it should have allowed me to import users and settings. I didn't think to expect it to, but it was kind enough to let me know that there were none there suitable for import. Thanks.
I'll try to remember to update this later and post the results of this little unplanned foray into system installation.
Update about 15 minutes later: It appears that I should have clicked on "Format" when selecting partitions. Apparently that meant that was what it planned to do, not an option I could consider. Good thing anything important is backed up. Now I have nothing of the previously installed Linux Mint system. Not only that, it overwrote the MBR like I explicitly intended to avoid. It still appears to boot Windows fortunately but now Windows is the secondary system, not the first. Windows allows you to switch to Linux at boot and Linux allows you to switch to Windows at boot, so it isn't really a problem. It is irritating though. Now I have to think "did I really back up everything I might have wanted?"
But the new install is beautiful. Not that I could log in as the user it made me set up at first, oh no, I had to log in as a guest, then switch to that user on the command line and then switch from that user to root from the command line and create my new home directory. Only then was I allowed to log in as my new user on my freshly installed system.
It is hard to recommend that others attempt to follow in my footsteps. It may be great for me in the end but there were so many pitfalls along the way that I can scarcely expect a novice user to avoid them. I'm not done even yet. There are updates being applied because of course the DVD doesn't come with the latest software, oh no, you have to wait