Linux links

Why Linux is better  A great intro to choosing Linux vs. Windows

Zorin   Nice Windows-looking distro, for those who want the same look

Linux Mint My favorite, has everything I need and a couple nice desktop choices (I like Cinnamon)  Best for beginners, but the menu system takes some getting used to (I like Gnome3 better than Unity)

Makeuseof's Best Linux Distributions  A great review of all the top Linux distros, to make choosing easier   Reviews, links, news about all 300 or so Linux distros (plus other FOSS OS)

Rescatux  A nice small rescue CD. Reset Windows passwords, test hardware etc. Has a minimalist Linux OS.

Gismo's freeware Good place to look for Linux apps

Jim's Guide to converting to Linux (Bonus: how to dual boot)

Back up your data files on the cloud, external hard drive, or DVDs.

Go to Distrowatch, hit Search in the upper corner, and type in the search box whatever preferences you have (like, old computer, scientific, multimedia, etc).  Check out some of the resulting distros and see which best suits your situation. I recommend Mint for the beginner; Ubuntu has a wierd menu, but lots of good documentation (mostly works for Mint too). Zorin mimics the look of Windows, if you prefer. Go to the distro's website, download the ISO and burn to a disk or flash drive.

If you are going to dual boot with Windows, run a defrag, clean up your files with CCleaner or equivalent, take out the trash you don't need, uninstall all the crapware and apps you never use. Search for "dual boot tutorial" and read a few of them, too long to put here. There are some great YouTube videos. (If you are erasing Windows, never mind the dual boot stuff; installing one OS is way simpler.)

Boot off the disk and see if the Linux distro runs great on your machine, and sees all your hardware, like camera, sound, etc. Then hit the "Install" button on your desktop. You'll need to make up a username and password. Then if you are dual booting, you need to "install alongside Windows", as per the tutorials. Otherwise choose "replace Windows".  Then about 10-20 minutes later, you'll be ready to get back to work after you copy all your data files back in.

You will then be free to move about. No windows, no gates, no barbed wire malware.