Do I NEED a 'server' and server software?

I am a total newbie at networking and to that end I have enrolled on a local Cisco CCENT1 networking course, (that STILL has no start date). I have a question about networking and 'servers'. I would like my 5 computers to be able to 'see' each other on my network so that they can send each other data (not just e-mails or instant messages, or be able to access each others 'public folders') - and be able to receive replies to that data - possibly even using one of the notebooks to connect 'remotely'.
I do NOT have a server and don't really know what a server does, or how it would work, so do I even need one?
I understand enough to know they can be expensive and need their own operating system i.e 'Windows Server'.
My pc's are as follows:
1x Desktop pc running Win' Vista Home Premium + Ms Office 2007 Pro, 1x (mini) pc running Win' Vista Home Premium (with Windows Media Centre) + Ms Office 2003 Std, both connected to a 2 port KVM switch; 1x notebook pc running Win XP Pro + Ms Office 2007 Pro and 2x identical notebooks running Win' Vista Basic + Ms Office 2003 Std. All 3 notebook pc's are able to access the internet, via wi-fi or ethernet cables as I have various other hardware - Netgear powerline plugsx4, Netgear W.A.P., Netgear Ethernet Switch, Netgear Modem/Wireless Router and Belkin USB Ethernet Hub (which only allows ONE pc at a time to access any external USB drives attached to it). This 'network' is using my 'home' internet connection, and as I am a student any data being sent to or received from any 'client' pc is not business critical, because it is 'made up' anyway.
My purpose is to understand how data is sent across networks and received, and how it can be 'interupted' on it's travels and how to prevent these 'interuptions', using a sort of home based/amatuer pc lab and also to learn about hardware and software firewalls, and how they are used within computer networks
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More about server server software
  1. You do not need a 'server' computer for your work. Basically a server application opens up a port and waits for a client application. So, for example, on a peer to peer network that is sharing files, each PC is both a client and a server!
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