I suggested SuSE 9.1 personal. For a newbie its dead simple. I would guess that the issues you had with 9.1 are a result of upgrading 8.1 to 9.1, SuSE updating has always been terrible. I've performed about 30 installs of 9.1 Pro on workstations and slow LAN transfers or freezes have never been an issue.
I'll admit I haven't tried Personal, but I can't see how it would be less stable, just fewer apps.
Damnsmalllinux is a great idea, but it may be an uncomfortable OS for a linux newb.
Flames > /dev/null