Had the hard drive die in my laptop. Not totally dead, but bad enough that it wouldn't start, and I couldn't reinstall my stuff on it. I was able to boot with an Ubuntu live CD, boot from it and back up a bunch of stuff to a portable hard drive.
The whole recovery process has been relatively painless, considering. The physical installation of the hard drive is even easier than on a desktop--2 screws for the cover, 2 for the bracket. The drive plugs in, no cables to deal with. I found a SATA laptop drive at CompUSA's going out of business sale for $62
A neat thing about the Ubuntu Live CD--you put it in the CD and boot, and it comes up as a working and fairly complete Linux system, although a bit slower than a hard drive install. Click on install, answer a few questions, and it starts installing to your hard drive. However, while it is installing you can still work--I was on the web and IM while it was installing. You can also use the CD to play around with and see if you like linux, and if it will work easily on your computer, without changing anything.
I don't think I lost any important data--I was able to get my music moved over (most of which is backed up already) and I use Google for mail and RSS. I saved the profile from Firefox, and when I put it back and re-started Firefox was exactly like it was on the old computer.
Plug the printer in, and it just worked, no driver disks needed. Same with my PDA. This is the first time I've lost a Linux hard drive, and it is far easier to recover than when I've lost a Windows drive. Everything I need is online, and the system automatically finds it--I don't have to remember where I put the printer disk, or look up drivers for my printer and PDA.
This install has Compiz, the new fancy windows manager. A lot of what it does is just eye candy with little use--When you move a window, it stretches and wobbles into place, and when you close a window it shrinks and goes transparent. One thing I like is that alt-tab doesn't just show an icon of the programs in use, but a preview of the actual window, including motion. It doesn't seem to slow stuff down, so I'll leave it.