A Facebook Friend just asked me this question:
Noel: I spent literally 100 hours installing and reinstalling Ubuntu 9.1 on an old 280 gig Gateway that my step-daughter was kind enough to donate. I documented blow by blow each and every miserable step of the undocumented way at my blog
When I finally got it working, I foolishly tried to implement a backup procedure which proceeded to trash my entire system making it unbootable. I began the re-install procedure at 12:01am Saturday morning. By 7:30am I had a working install. So, because I documented every miserable step of the way on WordPress, I was able to re-create in 7 hours what originally took me 100 hours. AND, had I been clever enough to do a backup (tarball) of the Ubuntu Evolution email client, then I could simply have restored that in 10 minutes and avoided the hour to muddle through POP3 stuff.
I decided that there is no point to really back things up. If this Ubuntu install becomes unusable then I will simply download and burn the latest stable Ubuntu install.
If more people would donate more machines, then I might experiment with installing more recent versions of Ubuntu. But the one I have (9.10, Karmic-Koala I think) is super fast compared to my Dell Windows XP. It needs no antivirus or firewall as far as I can determine. It regularly updates itself in a way that is less annoying than Microsoft updates. It connected to my Verizon DSL through Belkin Wi-Fi. I was able to install Google Chrome Debian easily, and have it synchronize my bookmarks with my gmail account. My Blackberry is also synchronized with my Gmail account. So I can forget about nasty old Microsoft Outlook desktop.
My latest project is to master Microsoft Office Word 2007 because it seems radically different from what I have which is Word 2003.