I got fed up of waiting for the Fedora DVD to download and gave Ubuntu another try instead. I’m amazed to say that it works, and the fileserver is now running Ubuntu as its main OS, with Windows in a VMWare Server VM. I only had to resort to the command line on two occasions - once to run “ntfsfix” to fix problems with my Windows drives (fair enough) and once to edit the Samba config files (just about acceptable).
Ubuntu now has a VMWare Server package in the third-party repository, so installing it was just a matter of locating the package in Synaptic and hitting the “install” button. Ubuntu also has read/write NTFS support with NTFS-3G, so that’s another one of my requirements off the list. Installing NTFS support is similarly easy, and it even comes with a simple GUI consisting of two checkboxes and two buttons.
Setting up VNC is just a matter of ticking another box and entering a password (hurrah). It uses RealVNC, so the password can’t be very long, but as the Linux side of the box isn’t exposed to the net anyway that’s not a big problem. SMB gets installed automatically when you try to share a drive, and the only config change is switching from “user” security to “share” (again, the server is only accessible locally).
The only real problem I’ve had with it is that it crashed when X started running if I wasn’t there to hit Ctrl-Alt-F1 and then Ctrl-Alt-F7 at the right time to switch to a console and back. Removing the NVidia drivers fixed that.
Even better, the new network card worked without any problems. All of the hard disks were detected automatically with no mucking around with floppy disks containing SATA drivers. I even got to upgrade the RAM to 1GB and replace the PSU, which was red hot and ticking ominously (yikes).
The real benefit of doing all of this is that I can take a snapshot of Windows whilst it’s working and just restore the snapshot in July when the OS decides to mangle itself again.