All information expressed in this post is my opinion, and should not be regarded as a statement of fact.Digital-Car UK|
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Gentoo is a source distribution, meaning that instead of the precompiled binaries you get with debian (and its derivatives) or fedora, almost everything needs to be compiled from source. This gives the admin great control over what is and is not compiled into an app/service/whatever, at the cost of higher maintenance and install time. I use gentoo for all of my desktops and my carpc, since the performance gains are real. For the back-end, though, I stick with good ole' debian.
christie- Bravo for taking a look at the open-source world. If you've never touched *NIX before, then no matter what distro you go with, you will encounter a rather steep - but not insurmountable - learning curve. I recommend starting with debian or one of its variants, and move to gentoo on the desktop (and carpc) when (and if) you get comfortable with linux.
I'd recommend Ubuntu for newbies. Debian is a good distro as well (Ubuntu is based on Debian). Also, ubuntuforums is pretty active.
I'll say that over the last 10 years, very impressed with how far things have come on the desktop side.
I'm running Ubuntu with a custom kernel now on my carpc, (was Debian previously). There were a few warts due to my choice of hardware ,software but most of it went pretty smoothly.
As far as software, python is a good place, but I'd also recommend Perl. Yes, Perl gives you a lot of rope to hang yourself, but it's got CPAN which is a giant collection of modules to do almost anything you want. A lot of people bash Perl for it's on resemblance to line noise, but that's only if you write it that way. If you do decide to check out Perl, perlmonks.com is a great resource.
FYI, my front end is written in Perl, using the SDL libraries.