Don't underestimate the Windows Server System. Sure, it may well cost you an arm and a leg, your first born child and 10% of your earnings for life afterwards, but with the wonder that is DreamSpark, students get it for free.
Take Windows Server 2003. It was fast, reliable; it was incredibly powerful; it worked. It took ages to configure as a server, but the average end-user who actually sat down to use the operating system wouldn't be using it as a server. At best, they'd be using it as an operating system virtualised to roll out across a mass network.
With a few clicks of the mouse, you can set the basic settings which bring back "actual life" to your desktop; enabling the wireless service, turning on themes, sound and multimedia services, and enabling all of the other things you'd have on Vista.
For students using a server operating system as a client computer may make the user feel like their claws of a cougar, but at least in this case both parties can use each other without feeling like the other is being taken advantage of.
So even though it may seem clunky because it has "server core capabilities" like Active Directory, web server functionality, jazz like that, but it's really not.
Once you jump to the "server" side, you'll never go back.