this is for assignment work. unfortunately whilst i can navigate xp with no problem linux is a complete mystery. i need to know how to setup password protection, customise the desktop, perform a simple backup of a hard disk and setup file/directory structures
Have you decided on what version of Linux? If you haven't I highly recommend Xandros click here it very closely resembles Windows. Its very secure, unfortunately you won't be able to view the Linux partition from Windows, but you can view Windows from Linux. Just another word of warning, you can read/write from Linux to FAT32 but you can only read an NTFS partition.
Each user has their own password in Linux, root has their own password for maintenance of the Kernel, a user can grant permissions to other users as to what folders/files they can access in their profile.