|I would consider using a virtual machine if you have a new enough laptop. A VM is a software version of a real computer.You run the VM within xp and it looks like any other application but is a real computer. It doesn't bork your xp like dual boot would. When you know more then consider dual boots or simply clean installs each time.|
There are also live cd's that work fine to see if your hardware is supported.
Books. Well. paw through the ones at book stores and see what you might be interested. The subject is too huge for anyone to know.
"Best Practices", Event viewer, host file, perfmon, antivirus, anti-spyware, Live CD's, backups, are in my top 10