well, I may be unable to give you any specific answers to your questiosn but some month ago I was at the same problem: which linux distro should I choose?
I tried SuSE, RedHat and Debian. And don't sue me if this is to less, but soon I recognized: Debian is a bad-ass! You have to work yourself into it but after you solved this hard beginning, you're going to love `Debian's way`.
Compete installation over internet (something SuSE is not capable of (god, I tried), though, while you're able to get RedHat's full isos on their server), complete dependable package system, any prog you can imagine, very stable `unstable` release
(yeah, I tried all of them, stable, testing and unstable and I have to say: unstable beats anything! and of course my box isn't crashing at all)
You may want to investigate more distros like Mandrake, Slackware or the 'brand new' Gentoo (heard very good comments about it). Also, try SuSE and RedHat.
From my experience there is no PERFECT distro, you have to try several out and then choose the one you liked most (it's the same with X Window managers, though
Good luck & have fun with linux, it rocks ass!