Follow-up on my request for hosting advice: It looks like a virtual server with root access is the way to go, but I'm a little nervous about performance--very few of my sites are static, and they spend a lot of time stat'ing files and hitting the database. Still, probably worth it if I don't have to care about hardware. And although 5Gb of drive space seems a bit claustrophobic after 120Gb and a gig of RAM with a fast processor (yes, my server used to do more), I should probably stop treating it as a home-away-from-home now I can do development on my laptop too.
Recommendations so far:
Ask MeFi has a thread on virtual root access servers [via Chris Heathcote] and they mention a few of the same places and some more. These stand out in particular: Linode; Rimu Hosting; Vcolo. So much choice!
Hunting through these also exposed me to Xen, UML and VServer for virtual private servers. Xen is newer but faster, according to Slashdot in March 2005. Well. Linode uses UML (or at least, they did in March 2004). Bytemark also use UML (ref, June 2005). Vcolo use UML. Rimu use Xen. OpenHosting has VServer. From googling and email it seems John Companies uses Virtuozzo (comparable with Xen).
I think it comes down to John and Rimu. The two terms of service don't have much to choose between them. Once you take into account that you need to buy more backup disk space with Rimo, and that with Virtuozzo you can apparently slightly overstate the amount of RAM you get, I think what you get for your money works out about the same. There are raves about John all over the www. On the other hand, Rimu have open forums and talk with their customers more, and apparently respond within minutes rather than days. Then again, John's been around for a little longer, and I am reassured by the professional appearance of their terms of service. The last thing I have to care about - speed of disk IO - I can't find any comparisons about. There's barely anything in it, is there?
Okay, I have to choose (mainly because I need to go for dinner). John Companies it is. They offer FreeBSD, which I've used for 4-5 years and I can configure exactly how I like even when I'm half asleep (plus the ports tree can't be beat), and I like that the backups are their responsibility. I'm off to sign up.