Welcome to LQ.
I think you will find that Linux has come a long way in 15 years. I know it has in the five years I've used it, and I liked it at first glance back then. Observations from my personal experience.
You want simple: Ubuntu, Mint, CentOS (yeah, I know CentOS is known as a server distro, but it installs really easily and is simple to set up). Mandriva was also easy to set up, but I haven't toyed with it for several years.
Highly customizable: Arch, Gentoo. (I haven't used either regularly, but I have played with them).
Rock solid never breaks: Slackware, Debian.
Build your own: Linux from Scratch
Small: Tiny Core, Puppy.
I've never used Fedora. I tried OpenSuse. It worked fine but did not appeal to me.
I started with Slackware
and I think it's a good starting point.
Once you understand Slack, no other distro can intimidate you, because you will know what you are doing. It's still my first choice (Debian is my second).