I'm also a newbie, but have tried a number of different distros and install
methods on several machines now. So far, none of my installs have required
a Linux partition, something I'm trying to avoid to save space to run
Windoze. I don't know if this will help, but here are some suggestions:

1. Get "Damn Small Linux" and do a "poor man's install". Basically you
copy the 50mb KNOPPIX. file and put it in a folder called c:\KNOPPIX and
then create a boot floppy. This works like a champ for me, and the 50mb
file wouldn't be hard to pass to your system over a null modem cable. The
DSL site has more details on this.

2. Copy an entire live CD's contents to your C:\ drive and use
"loadlin.exe" to boot Linux from DOS. I'm doing this with Damn Small Linux
on an old Pentium 133. Check their forum for my post on how I did it.

3. Get "Topologilinux" and install from Windows XP. I did this on my Sony
Vaio PCG FXA32. Now I can run Slackware from within XP or boot directly
into it. If you go this route, get the latest version, much easier install.
(Incidently, a version of this for Knoppix is in the works.)

4. Pull the hard drive out of your notebook and take it to another system
that has a bootable CD, then install to your notebook's hd. I haven't tried
this, but I know several people have.

You might also be able to create a Linux partition, then use Windows XP to
get an entire CD distro over a network, boot from a Linux floppy and then do
a manual install from the Windows partition to the Linux partition. I'm
guessing this would be -way- beyond the skills of a newbie like me ;-)

Good luck,