^^^ aww, don't be so harsh to our new friends. Yes, encourage them to search, but it doesnt hurt to point them in the right direction. We need more people to be aware of Linux and we have the responsibilty to keep them from getting "fed up" and going back to Windows...
If you are interested in lightweight Linux distros the best place to learn is to strip one down yourself then install just the app that you want to use (and supporting packages). Doing this will give you a lot of experience with Linux and will really help you in the next few phases of your project.
Also, take a read through the Linux Frontends thread, there is a lot of info in here for you.
Speeding up boot and learning to customize a distribution is not a task for a green beginner. You need a little experience first. Once you learn what you are doing, Windows cannot touch Linux from a customization stand-point.
If you are interested in using Linux for a desktop OS, then any number of distos will work (Suse, Ubuntu, Mandriva).
If you want to delve a little deeper and have it customized for your needs, I would recommend Gentoo. The Gentoo documentation is excellent and will walk you through an almost ground up install.