The past 5 years (or more, I can't remember exactly) I have had a windows server which provided 4 "shares" or "network disks" to the users of my local network. Simplicity was it's power. All network users would connect with the default windows "Guest" account to prevent complicated logon screens and forgetting of passwords. To prevent damage to files, all shares are read-only, except for one, where people can drop files. Only the administrator of the machine can move the files from the drop box into the different read-only shares. All files on the server were backed up twice a week to a different (physical) drive, and all drives were automatically virusscanned each day and on-access, and defragmented once a week.
My dad is also using this server (we have a wifi bridge between our homes and yes, it is military grade encrypted). A few weeks ago we ran out of diskspace (bought new cameras :-). So we bought a 320GB drive. The old server with the passivly cooled 600MHz pentium 1 processor decided it didn't like the large drive so we had to upgrade the hardware. I built a new server from my old desktop PC, which was collecting dust because I am now a happy Mac user. When the new server was ready, it was much more noisy than the old one (more fans), and slurped 105 Watts while doing nothing, and up to 140 Watts under booting or serious disk/network access.
Just for fun, we also measured the power usage of my Mac Mini. It was using 40 Watt under heavy disk access, and only 20Watts when doing practically nothing. In sleep mode this even dropped to 3 Watts! This, plus the fact that the PC was producing so much heat that we actually started to worry about it catching on fire when placed inside a closet, convinced my dad to use a Mac Mini as a file server.
The next day, he called me to tell me he had bought a G4 Mac Mini to be used as a fileserver for around 300 Euros. I picked it up and re-installed OSX on it. This only took 30 minutes or so, and I must say that I am pleasantly surprised by the performance of the G4 in comparison with my Core duo Mac Mini with 2GB memory.
Tonight, I installed Sharepoints on it, which is a utility to efectively edit the smb.conf file on your mac. I hooked up an USB disk, and got it running as a samba share in less than 5 minutes, complete with Windows Guest login. Just now, I also managed to make one of the 2 shares readonly, which prooves that the mac Mini can behave itself exectly as the PC server I had to the outside world. This would be great, if I give it the same network name nobody will even notice that their files are now served by a Mac.
I will try to mimic my fileserver completely soon (somewhere next week) and will post a complete description of what the original server did, and what I did to get the Mac Mini to replicate that behaviour.
Now go buy your own Mac Mini G4 and some USB (or better: firewire) harddrives (with spindown capability!) and join me next week in building your mac Mini fileserver. Have a proper place and a proper backup for your files and photos!
Soon, your house will be free of PC's... :-)