I got the side buttons on my ms inteli mouse to mostly work with mandrake after looking at other threads in this forum.
They work as front and back with the konqueror browser but I can't get them to work in mozilla. Being new to linux, I imagine you'll have trouble with the side buttons no matter what distro you use untill you learn to configure them properly. I'm useing mandrake to get my feet wet too but once I'm happy with everything. I'll have to load up gentoo or slackware just so I can have fun scratching my head while I figure stuff out again.