i guess i need to better understand the role of the bootloader, then i can move to actually burning it... i've also seen a tutorial that claims to program chips _without_ requiring a bootloader... apparently, this offers an extra 4 bytes of addressable memory?The bootloader just allows programs to be loaded on to the chip using the serial pins.
Makes it simpler because (with the Arduino at least) the serial pins are connected to USB so you just plug it in and you can program instantly.
Without the bootloader you need to program it using a programmer.
The bootloader only uses 1K of the 16K available but if your making a particularly big program then it can become a pain.
You have to be doing something rather complex to run out of space though.