There are a bunch of blog posts and articles out there about how fun and valuable it is to host your own minecraft server, but it turns out there aren't a lot of articles about how to set up the dang thing. I am by no means an expert, but here's how things shook out for me.
Step 1) buy a Minecraft account and figure out the basics of the game. This is going to mean putting in some hard work playing video games, but I know you'll get through it! Having an understanding of the game is pretty important for the rest of it. There are plenty of tutorials and things available on the minecraft wiki, as well as recipes for crafting. The most important thing to know up front: you move with the letters WASD and space bar (a teen walking by had to explain it to me my first time, that's the level of experience i'm starting with).
Step 2) talk to your IT department. If you're going to want to open your server to the outside world, they're going to need to be involved because firewalls and ports and other IT mumbo jumbo. Right now my server is hosted on a computer in my boyfriend's basement, but it will migrate to one of our servers once ::insert IT mumbo jumbo:: is moved/upgraded/something something.
Step 3) set up your server! You'll need a computer that isn't doing much of anything else, or for your IT department to do some wizardry and then give you access to that wizardry.
-Pick your server. I chose to go with the Bukkit server because it seemed like the most user-friendly and has a lot of great plugins to make my life easier. MAKE SURE YOU DOWNLOAD THE MOST RECENT VERSION. At the time of this posting, that is version 1.5.1-RO2 (http://forums.bukkit.org/threads/craftbukkit-1-5-1-r0-2-is-now-available.141097/)
There are lots of tutorials available, but I found that they assumed a certain amount of previous knowledge, even the ones that are aimed at total noobs. Here's one of the most valuable things I learned:
YOU OPEN .YML FILES IN NOTEPAD. YOU'RE WELCOME.
There it is! Rename it craftbukkit (it'll automatically add the .jar, in my experience. When I named it "craftbukkit.jar" it turned out to actually name it "craftbukkit.jar.jar" which took a while to figure out.), and then make a new folder (name it something fancy like "server" or "bukkit" or "minecraft" or "francis" and put it inside! DO THAT BEFORE YOU OPEN IT! LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!
Double click it! It should generate a bunch of files:
In your fancy folder, right click and open a new text document. Paste this in it:
java -Xms1024M -Xmx1024M -jar craftbukkit.jar -o true PAUSE
Save it as run.bat
Double click our fancy new "run" thingydo.THINGS WILL START TO HAPPEN:
Mine is telling me there might already be a server running on that port. I am able to login to it though, so I'm going to assume that's something to do with the fact that I can't actually run this on my computer (IT stuff blah blah computers ports blah blah) for now though, I am able to log in and I am able to install sweet plugins. It's pretty easy to move all of your hard work to a place where it WILL be functional to the outside world, so if you're working on it while IT figures out their end, it's all good.
Even though I've done this a few times now, I did it from scratch as I was creating this tutorial, and goodness did I mess it up a lot. Hopefully if you walk through these steps you won't need as many stiff drinks as I did after my first couple of tries.
Next post: PLUGINS!
(here's where I got my info when setting it up. The link does NOT go to the most recent version, use my link above. This article had all the info, but I found it hard to follow--it took me many tries to get it right! http://wiki.bukkit.org/Setting_up_a_server)