I have had so much help from this and similar forums that I try to help with my own limited experience. Yes, Mandrake (10.1) is excellent and at least the GNOME desktop gives you easy "read only" access to your Win (usually C) drive. I have little experience (do not need Win much these days) with e.g. CrossOver, Win4Lin emulators and related programs (easily available at a modest price in e.g. Xandros) and do not know how they can be used in Mandrake.
I think you "hit the nail on the head" about possibly running two OS on the same (i.e. desktop) machine. Try dual-booting, using two HDD:s on the same machine (less risk to mess up either or both). In my present experience, Win Me and Win XP on the "master" ATA or first SATA drive are happily cohabiting with Fedora core3, Mandrake 10.1, and Xandros 2.5.
Any help i can get would be great. I used to work at a pawn shop to make a lil extra money for school and someone came in and pawned his laptop and it had mandrake linux on it. he let me mess around with it for a bit before we put it in our back room. i am really interested in using mandrake linux but do not know anything about it. i just have a few questions. Is there a program out there that allows me to use windows based programs inside of linux? On mandrakelinux.com i saw a screen shot of someone who was running linux and also had a window running the complete version (from what the window looked like) of windows. how would i go about possibly running two OS until i get the hang of linux. Any help possible would be greatly appreciated.