Originally Posted by Strelok
i mean software, like FTP or NAS
NAS stands for "Network Attached Storage". A NAS is a device that specifically is used to attach storage to the network. A server fills the role of being a NAS often, which is what we call a file server. File servers are not special in any regard compared to normal servers, or even normal computers. It's all about the usage of the device.
In this situation, you'd likely be best off going with Ubuntu and using SAMBA to share the files with the Window users directly using Window's file sharing. There will be countless tutorials online detailing how to set up and use SAMBA.
You could just set up user accounts on the server and use FTP, but that would mean everyone would need to have an FTP client installed, know the limitations of FTP, and would surely end up with confusion, anyways. I would say that FTP is a more-stable way to transfer files, and the way I usually choose when I have the choice between the two, but it's still a more complicated way that confuses the heck out of most non-technical people.
The operating system really does not matter for most servers, but given the choice, I'd likely go with a Windows server (most likely running Windows XP S.P. 3 as I have a license of professional) mostly because I have a lot more experience with Windows, which gives me a lot more ability to customize the system exactly as I wish without needing to do extra research. Linux would likely be the more-stable choice, and surely the better choice for an older system whilst requiring as much performance as possible out of the box.
Now, to put it bluntly: You do not need a file server. You may WANT a file server, but what you really want is a NAS (network attached storage) device that'll give you the ability to connect to a file system to upload and download documents. In reality, a server would end up being a lot more of a head ache for you if you're expecting it to "just work", and be able to function as a file hosting device with little input from you.
That isn't to say that doing it is a horrible idea and will cause the end of all of humanity, of course. It's merely saying that this is not the optimal choice for your needs, so you'll need to prepare to deal with the problems that come about because of it. Specifically, a server is an entire machine that you will need to keep up with, make sure the security updates are being done, and the system isn't bricking itself because of a conflict, double checking that your backups (you WILL be doing backups of your files, right? [Hint: RAID does not count as a backup. RAID is failure tolerance/redundancy]), and troubleshooting the entire mess whenever it takes a crap on you. Be prepared for issues to pop up at least once a month on Windows, and at least once every two to three months on a Linux machine. Your mileage in this area will vary depending on how much work you put into ongoing upkeep versus how often you decide to just let "good enough" keep running. It's a dangerous balancing act.
Now, if you still have your heart set on specing up a server to serve files, you'll want to figure out how many sets of drives you have. Specifically, figure out the interface (PATA/IDE/ATA 3.5", PATA/IDE/ATA 2.5", and SATA are your choices [SCSI will not even be mentioned besides this note]), the size (use a standard of GB to measure them in your list [you ARE keeping a list, right? I suggest a nice spreadsheet to keep your data organized.]), and pre-existing data, if any, that you may need to deal with on these drives.
Now, you are going to need to then figure out, in the machine you decide to be your server, what levels of RAID, if any, it supports through the hardware (you will likely need to watch the POST screen to see if any RAID controller starts up, and what key shortcut it asks you to press to access it [the most common one I know is Ctrl+R]). If your system has hardware RAID support, review the GUI and figure out what levels of RAID it supports. You'll need to factor in your disk sets with the type of RAID you're going to go with, as well as the performance you expect to get out of the device. The best option would be a RAID 10 array with four 2TB disks, but if you only have one 2TB disk and a bunch of other, smaller disks, you'll likely want to keep the 2TB disk out of the RAID group. In any regard, if your system supports hardware RAID yet you decide to not use it, I would suggest reviewing the next section.
If your system does not support hardware RAID, you'll either need to set up software RAID (you can find assistance for that, depending upon your operating system, online far better than I could assist you with right now), or you're going to need to accept that you have no redundancy, and merely focus on backing up your critical data to allow you to not need to worry about a failure destroying your term papers and po... ---ny pictures. That means you need to first isolate a system disk, then isolate a data disk, and then a backup disk.
The system disk needs only be big enough to host the operating system if you want to offload all programs and whatnot to the data disk. Personally, I keep my programs on the system disk, but make sure that any data they use that they store in their local directory that I would need backed up is sync'd over to my data disk. Besides that, your data disk and backup disk need to be roughly the same size, with the backup disk being larger, if possible, to allow for file versioning. Now, depending on your operating system, you may need to look up an application for your backup usage. On Windows, I would suggest either SyncBack Freeware for a direct 1-to-1 file syncing solution, or CrashPlan's free edition for a compressed file backup. On Linux, I'd try CrashPlan's free edition, but you may need to dig a bit to find a better solution (perhaps another user can make a suggestion?). Either way, data security is the primary concern with a file server, so make sure to properly address this.
Additionally, CrashPlan offers an online backup solution for about 55$ a year which is entirely unlimited. I use it on my home server as I have terabytes of data that I require off-site backups for (and some erotica that I think falls into that category, too!), and I have found their service to beat Mozy and Carbonite, both of which I have tried. Of course, off site backups of your data may not be something you care about, and 55$ isn't all that cheap for a college student in this economy, but feel free to try the trial out if nothing else.
And now we loop back onto where I started, so I'd say that's about the end of this post. I suggest that you re-think your reasoning for having a file server, and if nothing else, set it up in a corner with a decent display, keyboard, and mouse, and use it as a guest box to get some more usage out of it. Good luck!