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i'm new to linux and servers, so i want a little info on what distro i should choose. i want to run file, print, webmail/mail, web, ftp dhcp server with firewall abilities. i also need it to be able to work with my windows based systems. please give me something that won't be too difficult to use but is at the same time stable enough to do the tasks i want it to do.
system: pentium III 1ghz
20 gig Ide (going to swap it for two 80 gig wd caviar hds)
onboard NIC and second NIC (10/100)
oh yeah i forgot to add: i would also like it to be able to store user settings so i could log onto usernames from different computers on my network and get the same settings each time (i think this is called roaming profiles).
For "roaming profiles", will the client computers be Windows or *nix? If the former, look into SAMBA -- I think SAMBA in PDC mode supports roaming profiles. If the clients are *nix, look into NIS (easy to set up in trusted environments) or LDAP authentication (much more secure and featureful).
At the FUDCon in February, Red Hat were discussing that they were looking into roaming profiles. So, from that I would say look at CentOS if you don't want to pay for a distro or RHEL if you do. You could also look into Novell.
You can download the Personal version and then install extra packages to make it a Professional version. But as with most of the "bigger" distros, if you want support from them you'll have to pay for it.
Don't know much about roaming profiles. If you plan to use your linux distro as a server then you would have to work on command line. You won't have much of gui to work with or put it other way you would not want lot of gui to bog down your server ram. So there isn't much difference (one distro being easier over the other) between various distros. As i said before, I would prefer debian or slackware or even a BSD for server.
Actually, the GUI doesn't have that much effect unless you are using it all the time. Like anything else, if it's not being actively used, it'll get swapped out.
I'd recommend learning the CLI, tho. Some things are quicker / easier, esp when you know what you are doing.
BTW, if we are talking serious loads ie not just for home learning, 256MB RAM is a bit tight.