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Some people claim that distros like Fedora are less performant than others, because it contains lots of graphical stuff for easy configuration.
Other distros, like Slackware (if I'm not mistaken), are harder to configure, but should be faster.
For you, any Linux with Samba will be good and probably more reliable than Windows.
For file serving, I always recommend Unix/Linux over Windows, simply because *nix has been designed to
handle multi-user stuff and serving, whereas Windows simply doesn't have all it takes (yet).
A fine example: *nix NAS servers for file serving have shown to be very reliable and fast, serving files to
both Windows and Linux easily via Samba.
Very recent Windows based NAS servers have proven (to me at least) to be much more difficult to configure and less reliable in the communication with Linux machines.
Distribution: Debian E, Vectorlinux 5.1std, Arch, Gentoo 2006.0
Hi and welcome to LQ
Fedora core 4 is a good choice. Its true that some of the programs are beta, but you can decide to keep the 'stable' ones, and go on without upgrading them.
The 'needlework' in getting fedora to run, usually comes with these upgrades.
So yes it is a good distribution to start with. You decide when you are ready to try some manually configuring yourself, almost
There is also alot of good lightweight windowmanagers to try out if you find gnome or kde too heavy.
I've been using linux for many years now, and I recently installed FreeBSD on my friend's computer and on an old UltraSPARC 5 I had lying around and I have to say it's SO good. On my friend's PC it was 48 seconds from boot to KDE screen, which I was very impressed with.
BSD can be a little hard to get used to, but if you have little experience with either linux or bsd then you're starting from scratch anyway. If you give it a go, the documentation is very good but be patient because things won't always go right, but there are plenty of people here who can help you.
FWIW I would use Desktop BSD - it is FreeBSD 6.0 with graphical install and configuration tools. It's not a fork, it's just extra apps and install tools so it's fully FBSD6 compatible.