Many thanks guys,
Am again indebted for your time and know-how.
I am going to do a 'double', - firstly do a full 'clean-sweep' PHP install for my (current) work-horse machine just to show it and microsoft who's boss and keep things rolling, and concurrently recommission a retired machine to try out the Ubuntu / Xampp stand alone idea - partly as an exercise, and partly as a failsafe/backup solution - and possible final solution once I sort out my network needs. I'm also curious about Linux so this will be a good excuse to explore.
Cheers for the input.