Disclaimer: Geek post follows. Proceed at your own risk!
Is there anyone out there with relatively recent experience with Linux or UNIX in a home (or small business) environment? I'm looking for suggestions for distributions that are stable, secure and relatively easy for a novice to use more or less out of the box. Actually, I'm fairly comfortable with the basic commands, but I dont''t want to have to spend a lot of time learning the esoterica of package management (what turned me off of Linux about 12 years ago) or manually creating IPSEC configurations and the like.
I'm interested in suggestions for both workstations and small servers on relatively modern hardware (desktop and/or laptop); a relatively lightweight portable (USB thumb drive) installation; and older distributions that may still be available to run on old (8-10 years) hardware (slow CPU, small memory and disks by today's standards). I'm willing to use different distributions for different configurations, if appropriate.
Suggestions for relevant discussion forums are also welcome.
Thanks in advance!