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Just about any distro can accomplish what you need. Mandrake does not have to run a GUI any more than Slackware does. Initial configurations are different, but once you have a distro installed you can make it do just about whatever you want.
That having been said, I'll put in my little plug for Debian. It installs in text mode, and doesn't even install a GUI unless you tell it to. I can't speak for your internet setup, but it connected to my ADSL modem and my router without any configuration on my part beyond entering username/password. Package management with apt and debconf means you shouldn't have trouble setting up samba or your firewall. Of course, I'm sure there are other distros of which all these things could be said as well.
I agree...most any distro would do the job...the only thing I would add is unless you are really comfortable with command line and know how to get around... you may want to think twice about adding some small gui... some of the tools can be helpful.
Fluxbox seems to be the most popular of the lightweight window managers, but keep in mind that a window manager by itself does not provide the added features of a desktop environment to which you may be accustomed. I believe XFce is known to be a complete desktop environment that is easy on the resources, but I've never tried it myself.
You should use a distro that you are comfortable with. Most will do what you want, you just need to be careful what to install and what not. You definitely don't need a GUI, but it might be helpful in setting it up. I can recommend IceWM as another lightweight solution.
if you like the tabbed browsing feature of mozilla or galeon then you'd love fluxbox. instead of just tabs for the browser you can connect the tabs of different programs. This screenshot shows galeon, evolution and eclipse connected via tabs. it's very easy to switch between programs this way.
- i was looking at these pages you have up here, and im a bit confused. what exactly is that im seeing? is it a window manager? and can it be installed without a desktop and be used to run graphical programs like xmms/Mozilla?
these two picture show the fluxbox window manager. just like a web browser is able to "hold" more than one html page open using tabs - the fluxbox window manager uses tabs to connect together individual programs.
picture one shows that the first tab on fluxbox has been click - this displays the first program, in this case it is a web browser.
picture two shows the third tab clicked - this displays the ide eclipse.