In any case, he lost the suggestions I made to him, and I promised I'd enter them here. I beg the indulgence of those already familiar with the subject matter.
- You can download an "ISO" file that contains a Linux "live CD' version and burn it to CD, with the resulting CD being bootable. When it boots, it will run Linux and not touch your hard drive unless you tell it to, so you can try Linux out without interfering with an existing Windows installation. There are a lot of these distributions, some that will fit on a CD, some that need a DVD, and some that will fit on a flash drive. I personally recommend Ubuntu Linux, but there are a lot of them, all with their advantages and disadvantages. distrowatch.com has many articles and reviews of Linux distributions.
- If you run Linux, you can set your computer up to "dual boot" so that you can choose either Linux or Windows when you start the computer. Alternatively, if you have a lot of RAM, you can run Windows on a "virtual machine" under Linux using other packages like VMware. (You need a Windows license to do either, which you presumably have if you're already running Windows.)
- If you continue to run Windows, for safety's sake, run under an account without administrative privileges unless you absolutely need those privileges. Unfortunately, the history of Windows has meant that a lot of companies that make software for Windows are lazy, and needlessly do things in ways that require administrative privileges. Even "run as" doesn't always work.
- If you continue to run Windows, by all means stop using Internet Explorer; it's like wearing a big "kick me" sign on your back. Run Firefox or Opera.
- Google turns up well over a million hits when one looks for "Northern Ireland" and "computer user group". I'm sure there is a lot of overlap there, but find one near you and attend the meetings.
- There is a huge amount of instructional material online. You needn't take classes to learn about computers, though it may help.