Re: Which distro to go for newbie?
Use a dual/multi boot with Ubuntu and another distro of your choice. Ubuntu if you have to get work done and another one to fiddle and learn. Once you're happy that you've mastered the other one, you can throw Ubuntu out the window and replace it again with another one.
Give Slackware a try; they say that if you learn Slackware, you learn Linux. If you use other distros, you learn those distros. I think it's true as there are barely tools to configure it; everything is done from the command line.
I love Slackware, specially when it comes to (web) servers. I have never been able to get my head around Ubuntu servers and the standard Ubuntu server install is (or at least was in the days of 6.06) very limited with regards to functionality (e.g. no sshd in the standard package).
If you don't make backups of your important data, your data is obviously not important to you.