If you are looking for a challenge then Gentoo is a good challenge to get you to the point that you know Linux. It really is an immersion into the Linux world as to get a well working system you have to work at it. RedHat/Fedora/Mandrake are really the same beast with slightly different tools and services, in fact you can lump SUSE/Novell into that pile. Xandros/Debian and the like are different only in their packaging tools but really are still similar with very different goals and tools. Xandros is a lot easier and Debian should be left to those who want torture at the benefit of getting a stable system. Debian is also slow to keep pace with the toys of the day, so if you want a current system it isn't a good choice.
...and I have some questions to place before the assembled masses:
I've always liked Mandrake for its relative ease of use, but this time, I'm really serious about getting past the "I know just enough to be dangerous" stage. I've noticed a large number of books purporting to teach the ins and outs of Linux, all of which come packaged with distribution CD's. For whatever reason, the flavor of the day in all these books seems to be Red Hat/Fedora. So, my questions:
1. Is Red Hat/Fedora that much harder to pick up than Mandrake might be?
2. What's the latest stable release of Red Hat/Fedora? I saw RH9 and Fedora 2.
3. Are these books even worth it?
4. I found books with 2, 3, and 4 CD distros. Other than additional software packages, what differences are there between these distros and the boxed sets (SuSE, Mandrake, etc.)?
5. Are these distros installed like the boxed set ones, or are there special steps (kernel compilation, etc.) required?
Any other thoughts and/or observations you might impart to me would be greatly appreciated.