Hi again. I thought I'd update you on where I've gone since I got all the great advice.
After quite a delay before I had enough free time to get started, I chose Mandrake 9.2 for my first attempt.
With Mandrake, whether I burned the CDs from the .iso images, or booted from floppy first to access the CDs, the installation always failed fairly early on for reasons that weren't explained very well in the messages displayed. After a little time waiting for any good advice on the Mandrake distribution section of these forums, and plenty of online searching, I decided to give Fedora a shot instead.
Success! The installation went well (except for having to re-burn Cd3 a few times due to corrupt sections). I could instantly acess the internet through my cable modem without issues.
I then spent last night and most of today trying to configure Samba, and this is where I'm stuck in the mud a bit. You can check out my most recent newbie thread if you know much about printer sharing through Samba (http://www.linuxquestions.org/questi...hreadid=140883
Anyway, I'm happy to be back in the world of a very rich command line, and have quickly jumped back into the vi editor (I've always been the kind of windows user that fought to find every last keyboard shortcut to avoid using the mouse!).
Anyway, with file sharing working, and being (hopefully) a few helpful pointers away from sharing my printers through the linux box, my goals will be accomplished!