Hi Den, I haven't checked all the links in this post so I suggest you read those first. However, I found myself in a similar predicament to yourself last year and I bookmarked this guide:
So. although the smb.conf file may look daunting, there are not really all that many steps to take. A mistake I always make is to miss out some of the switches noted in the commands. EG for
useradd -c "Real Name" -d /home/samba-username -s /sbin/nologin samba-username
I have noted:
note the switches. If you don't include -c, -d, -a this will not work. Remember to check for errors
This may seem like an extra level of complexity but, if you can, try this out on a virtual machine first and make a few mistakes. Easier to wipe the whole machine and start again than mess with your "real" system.
I think the Samba concept is worth pursuing. There are 2 students in my house who access files from a few places but the files are stored on my server which is backed up. An awful lot of confidence knowing that their studies are not just going to get lost sometime. I also have all household stuff on the server so I am building up a repository of useful info which will be there long after the various computers are phased out.